By Kevin Wilson: CNJ staff writer
He was the voice of Wildcats, Bulldogs, Dillas and Gorillas, but Joe Frank Wheeler never hesitated to shout out Clovis as his hometown.
The longtime sports announcer died Monday of a heart attack while setting up for a broadcast of the Amarillo Dillas baseball game against the Rio Grande Valley WhiteWings.
Born July 27, 1955, in Clovis, the 1973 Clovis High graduate was known for his expansive knowledge of everywhere he lived and his ability to make friends wherever he went.
“We could be in another town in another state,” daughter Marney Wheeler said. “He would go in somewhere, and coincidentally know the owner.”
Name the sport, and Joe Frank probably called it — from slow-pitch softball to Wildcat and Borger Bulldog football to Amarillo Dillas baseball and Amarillo Gorilla hockey.
“For his job, he was always a great fan and supporter of the Wildcats,” said former CHS Athletic Director Dale Fullerton, who was also an assistant football coach. “He was always in the locker room and had a great relationship with our athletes as well as the coaches.”
Joe Frank got into sports announcing, childhood friend Jim Hailey said, because he loved sports but was kept on the sidelines with asthma.
Otherwise, Hailey said, he had a standard childhood, loving Wildcat sports and working at Wienerschnitzel. Hailey said he, Jody Balch and Joe Frank once got into a food fight that got out of control, and all three had to chip in to replace a customer’s shirt when it caught mustard in the crossfire.
But Wheeler’s career encompassed a lot more than sports, as he also worked at the Borger Chamber of Commerce and did various broadcasting jobs. Nick Brady remembers hiring Wheeler to host a live bingo at Clovis’ short-lived KMCC television station.
“When he worked for KZZO (radio), he and a guy named Joe Stuckey had a morning show called the J Team,” Brady said. “It was probably one of the best morning show duos that we’ve ever had.”
His wife, Susie Wheeler, said he did one morning show bit where he would read the school lunch menus as a French chef with an exaggerated accent. Susie, a high school French teacher, was stuck with the damage.
“He would do all of these really bad pronunciations,” she said, “and (students) would think they were real.”
Susie and Joe Frank graduated together from Clovis High. Her first impression wasn’t positive because he was a typical “not nice” junior high boy when they met. But as time went on she loved his sense of humor and welcoming personality.
“ He loved everybody,” Susie said. “He was very outgoing, and tried to make everybody feel very comfortable.”