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Guts, Grit and Resilience: Jeff Charles’ Comeback Culminates in Broadcaster of Year Honors

Jan 14, 2014

Jeff Charles of the Pirate IMG Sports Network joins a truly distinguished group of elite broadcasters in being named North Carolina’s “Broadcaster of the Year” by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA) Hall of Fame.
But he stands alone in one respect.  Charles may be the only announcer in NCAA basketball history to call a game while taking chemotherapy courtside.

The play-by-play man was seriously ill as the ECU team took on Loyola Maryland in late March. Yet, he commanded his familiar courtside perch behind the mike, like any other game over the past 25 years. Except for this one, an infusion pump was duct-taped to Charles’ shoulder. A needle stuck in his chest pumped in drugs attacking his stage 3 colorectal cancer.

There frankly hadn’t been many joyous stretches in Charles’ quarter century calling ECU basketball. Now, following a 23-12 regular season – best-ever for ECU – the Pirates were rolling in the Postseason Tournament, a five-year old event for deserving mid-major schools which didn’t receive an invite from the NCAA or NIT. Not a whole lot in this world would have prevented Jeff Charles from broadcasting this meaningful CIT Tournament game against Loyola Maryland. 

Charles, a self-professed “workout maniac” who ran regularly and bench pressed 330 pounds, received his staggering diagnosis in December, just two weeks after being honored at a home football game for a quarter-century of service. He had three emergency surgeries in nine days followed by aggressive chemo, sidelining him for 2 1/2 months. He returned to service on February 13 to a raucous standing ovation in Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum.

During the introduction of the starting line-ups, each Pirate player trotted over to the scorer’s table to give Charles a fist bump – a tradition that continued throughout the remaining home games and CIT Tournament.  Charles spent several minutes thanking dozens of people by name during the emotional broadcast.

The Pirates won that game, and kept winning. They beat Loyola as Charles took chemo. And when they earned a spot in the Championship Game against Weber State in Ogden, staying home simply was not an option for Charles. 

“You just dig deep and suck it up,” said the son of a tough Ohio cop who ran a disciplined house described as “not exactly a democracy.”

Charles hadn’t flown since his surgeries and shouldn’t have gone to Utah. The complications of flying included a high probability of vomiting and dehydration. The charter would leave late on a Sunday night, landing after midnight Mountain time. A red eye would head back east within hours of the final buzzer Tuesday night, not exactly recommended travel for a 60-year-old cancer patient.
Charles didn’t need much time to make a decision. Nothing could keep him from this marvelous ECU run. He’d work the game.

Charles’ wife, who has a nursing background, accompanied him. Her support and care was crucial, enabling Jeff to lend his enthusiastic tenor to a thrilling game and a dramatic last-second bucket capping a storybook season.

While Charles had been sidelined, the ECU community rallied around him with thousands of cards, letters, phone calls, texts, and visits to his home. Charles says he is “incredibly blessed” to receive so much love from so many members of the tight-knit community.

“People here are so passionate about their ECU Pirates. It’s like a huge family and I’m so grateful for their overwhelming support,” he explained.