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It’s 5:00 p.m. ET when I call Ray Campbell (Kent State). The phone rings an odd tone before going to voicemail. Ray quickly replies with a text, “On the tour bus I will call in about 10 minutes! We got out of the venue a little late.” When we finally connect it’s 5:30 p.m. and Ray’s voice sounds like he is on his fifth Redbull. But you quickly find that it’s a natural enthusiasm, an unbridled energy that can’t be contained. We have never met in person and only previously exchanged a few emails, but Ray greets me like an old friend. He greets me like a brother. 

His energy is even more astounding given the fact of where he is calling from: France. It’s 11:30 p.m. there and despite having a full day of work under his belt and operating on a drastically different time schedule it would be easy to confuse yourself and think Ray just woke up.

Nearly every night of the week the voice of Ray Campbell (Kent State) fills a new venue as he emcees a regular battle on the hardwood of a basketball court between the razzle-dazzle heroic Harlem Globetrotters and the nefarious World All-Stars. Like a lightning rod in a thunderstorm, Campbell’s energy travels from the microphone to the assembled crowd. The gravity defying antics of the Globetrotters stoke nostalgia among older fans, while new fans are introduced to a world of theatrics and athletic ability rarely rivaled on the 94-foot length of a basketball court. For two hours Campbell conducts the crowd like a well-trained maestro, guiding them through the show with the taxing duty of continuously elevating the experience. “My favorite part of working in sports entertainment is the connection from energy that people get during a game that is completely organic. If I can be the bus driver to that moment, I will gladly accept that responsibility.”

The Globetrotters often use a translator while overseas, but that doesn’t matter, Ray says, because even if you don’t know the words you can feel the excitement in the phrase, “Here are your Harlem Globetrotters!” while dragging out the words in a rising crescendo. “Basketball itself is self-explanatory, but plot points in the show need to be guided and highlighted,” he explains. The answer is not just simple, it’s an epiphany. Enthusiasm, energy, and excitement are pieces of a universal language everyone understands.

The path to becoming the official announcer of the Harlem Globetrotters started during Ray’s time at Kent State University and culminated with a fortuitous audition in Long Beach Island, N.J.

Leading up to that audition Ray was preparing to host an event for Indian Motorcycles during Sturgis Bike Week, a premier motorcycle event held every year in Sturgis, N.D. A fellow emcee had informed him that the Harlem Globetrotters were holding auditions for an emcee/announcer. “I just decided to go for it. I knew if I wasn’t good enough for the job I had to take the risk anyways. I had to bet on myself,” he remembers feeling before the audition.

Ray passed along the Indian Motorcycles job to his friend and decided to go after the Harlem Globetrotters position. They sent him a script to run through that included some common sayings and phrases before one of their games. At 11:00 p.m., the night before an 8:00 a.m. flight to Philadelphia for the audition, he was reviewing the script and thinking of a way to stand out. He stayed up until 2:00 that morning researching the roster of the Globetrotters, taking notes on hometowns, positions, names, heights, and weights. None of this was asked for in the provided script and neither was his next idea: Ray decided he’d also announce the team in Spanish.

The next day he was at the audition with eleven other candidates, listening to them go before him and read from the template script. When it was Ray’s turn he approached the mic and went through a starting lineup using the profiles he had researched. “I went completely off script,” he says laughing. When he finished he paused for a second before starting over again with another, “Make some noise for your Harlem Globetrotters!” This time it was in Spanish.

“When I finished the audition I felt so good about it I knew I was going to be a part of this organization.”

Enthusiasm, energy, and excitement are pieces of a universal language everyone understands.

He was right. His reputation quickly preceded him during training camp, with everyone knowing him as “the guy from Cleveland.” The Globetrotters were excited that they had hired someone who they thought spoke fluent Spanish and when asked he replied, “Mas o manos,” Spanish for “so-so.” He added the caveat, for clarification if they doubted his skills: “You give me a script, I’ll be able to do it.”

Campbell was always a natural born entertainer, a natural born cheerleader in the purest sense of the word. As a new student at Kent State, he just didn’t know it yet. He had wrestled and played football in high school and knew he wanted to remain involved in sports through college. A member of the school’s cheerleading team invited him to attend a practice one day – an event that would prove to be serendipitous. Ray spent the next 3 ½ years as a member of the cheerleading team, even coaching one of the summer camps hosted by Kent State’s then head cheerleading coach. After his time with the cheerleading team wrapped up Ray found himself months away from graduation with little idea of what he was going to do. The head coach asked him if he’d like to stay involved and help out with some of the remaining men’s and women’s basketball games by leading the crowd in cheers with the cheerleading team.

His answer was a resounding yes. Ray researched Ahmaad Crump, the famous in-arena announcer for the Cleveland Cavaliers, and modeled his style after him leading up to his first game with the women’s basketball team.

He was told prior to the game by several people that the crowd was not going to be that big and that the men’s games would probably be more fun with more people. “I was just excited to go out in front of a crowd. I didn’t care if there were 2 or 2,000 people in the audience, they made a choice to come to a game and cheer and it was my job to get them excited.”

In no time at all Ray had the crowd of a mid-major basketball team rocking like it was an NBA game. After that he knew he wanted his pursue a career focused on getting people excited. It seemed the Kent State Athletics Department had the same idea. They offered him a paid internship for the next year after graduation to be their emcee.

From that moment forward Ray has been the motivating voice at various times for the Kent State Athletic Department, NBA D-League’s Canton Charge, MLS’ Columbus Crew, and corporate sponsors like Chevrolet Trucks.

Campbell’s YouTube channel serves as a highlight reel of his career including a notable appearance at the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2015 FanFest. In the video Campbell stands before a large outdoor crowd and starts a simple “Let’s – Go – Cavs” chant. Within seconds his own voice is drowned out as the crowd’s enthusiasm escalates to chant in unison. In this short and simple 30 second video Campbell’s talent for firing up a crowd is affirmed with a closing command of “Scream!” and the clamorous rebuttal from the fans.
Stamina is a not-so-obvious prerequisite for his current role with the Harlem Globetrotters. “Working for the Globetrotters is like working for the circus. You are constantly traveling and you don’t have much time to really think about anything else other than the job. If I get a rare day off it throws off my routine.”

Touring with the Globetrotters is a routine that could quickly wear down some of the best performers. “We start mornings with a bus ride to our venue or the next city. The venue or city could be 1-5 hours away. Sometimes the venue is next to our hotel and that’s considered a great day.” Ray helps the crew set up the venue for three hours before the doors open and breaks down about two hours after the conclusion of each game – this after projecting his voice through the arena PA system for two hours. “Using my voice so much, hot tea and honey is very important to my daily routine.”

Like any entertainment profession it’s easy to lull one’s self into thinking they are the center of the show. But Campbell has a refreshing perspective on the team effort it takes to pull off a show every night: “In sports entertainment everyone is working together to put on the best show possible for the families and fans who put their hard earned money down to be entertained by us for a few hours. For me, everyone from the Globetrotters, to the bad guy team (World All-Stars), to the stage manager, to the mascot, and to the bus driver -- we all have a job to do and do it as best as we can. I have always gone by the philosophy that it doesn’t matter if there are 2 or 20,000 people in the audience, we are going to be there and we are going to rock that venue.”

Campbell’s experience in Sigma Nu greatly influenced this philosophy of making every endeavor a team effort. In Sigma Nu Ray learned about the potential to lead without holding an official position or sitting at the head of the table. “I was always someone who liked to be front and center,” he says. “I learned through Sigma Nu how to be an effective leader while being a bigger team player. I learned that the opinion of the newest guy is just as important as the opinion of the oldest guy in the chapter. When you get a group together to achieve one goal anything is possible.”

Andrew Meeks, a fellow chapter brother during Ray’s collegiate years, echoed this statement and affirmed that Ray was the living embodiment of it. “Ray was a guy who every single person could rely on every single day. Sometimes you don’t need another Commander. Sometimes you need someone who buys into what you’re doing and who’s willing to work.”

Ray’s fondest memories of his time as a collegiate member were the occasions when the team succeeded. “Working together with my brothers for any project or competition was the absolute best. We were perfectionists. Nothing ever came out perfect but it came close enough to where we could all be proud. It was always incredible how we could all have opinions and eventually work everyone’s opinion together to achieve success,” he recalls.

It would be easy to assume that Campbell entered a chapter that already was functioning at a high level, but this was not the case. When he joined the chapter things seemed to be going great for one of the most popular fraternities on campus. But after joining he found out that some of the older members weren’t paying dues and not running the chapter the way it was supposed to be run. Right after his initiation, with alumni assistance, the chapter went through a critical self-review and 30 members dropped to only 8.

After their second meeting as only 8 men, they asked themselves a crucial question: Are we going to keep going as Sigma Nu or not?
Ray did not want to let down the alumni from years past who had given their time and energy to the chapter. “I had a vision of somebody asking me where Sigma Nu was and the response being ‘they’re no longer at Kent State because they didn’t want to do it anymore.’ That’s a terrible excuse. What was so hard in doing Sigma Nu? In being a Sigma Nu?”

I learned through Sigma Nu how to be an effective leader while being a bigger team player. I learned that the opinion of the newest guy is just as important as the opinion of the oldest guy in the chapter.

Those eight men came back to the next meeting, and then the one after that, and then another. They realized they had an opportunity to start the chapter with their culture and vision, untethered to stale traditions or campus norms. They started by recruiting unique people who wanted to be leaders on campus. This meant not settling for men who just wanted the social aspect of fraternity life.
To their credit, every one of those original eight members stuck with the chapter and still return as alumni to facilitate LEAD sessions or offer their assistance in other ways. “Those eight guys never quit Sigma Nu,” Ray says proudly.

Things came full circle recently when Ray was asked by the chapter to facilitate a LEAD session a week before he was flying out to Europe. He was in Denver and was unlikely to make the trip back to the chapter to be there in person. But Ray doesn’t quit. He did the LEAD session via Skype. Ray says he was honored the chapter invited him back to facilitate the session now that he’s in the position to support the chapter as an alumnus.

Ray’s entire story seems larger than life. In fact it’s hard to believe this person truly exists once you start hearing anecdotes from his chapter brothers like the time Ray made the cover of Kent State’s magazine because he was so well known on campus that he would get stopped 25-35 times a day on his way to class. While some of that may be hyperbole and the effect of stories getting grander over time, it’s not too far from the truth. “He is truly a one-of-a-kind person. He is always an amplified version of himself,” Andrew Meeks says of him.

There is another video on Campbell’s YouTube channel of him announcing the starting lineup of the Globetrotters at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. There is a buzz from the crowd and Campbell sits at his microphone with a smile from ear to ear. He kicks things off with “Let’s get this party started!” dragging the final word out for effect. After he introduces the starting five players the crowd starts to clap in unison. The show begins and it’s all being guided by the man behind the mic, the quintessential entertainer who never quit.

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