MELISSA — Longtime listeners who tune in to the Melissa Cardinals Network for high school games know they’ll be getting way more than down-and-distance, batting averages and triple-doubles. They know they’ll also be just as likely to learn how close a Parker County running back is getting to a state rushing record — or why the Toronto Blue Jays are decidedly scorn-worthy — or how the Caddo Mills Foxes are doing against Mt. Vernon.
You might even learn the best place to get a chicken-fried steak on the road.
In fact, listening to MCN play-by-play man Trey Graham and lead analyst Kenny Deel is much like sitting in the stands with two buddies — two well-informed buddies — and listening as they comment on the action while sometimes wondering aloud about next year’s NFL draft.
It’s a formula that has worked well for the pair and they’re about to start their seventh season together.
Graham is senior pastor of First Melissa church, a position he’s served for the last 15 years, and he’s starting his 10th year, personally, in sports broadcasting. Graham also hosts Faith Walk with Trey Graham and Smart Talk with Trey Graham on Dallas/Fort Worth station KWRD 100.7 FM. He attended Richardson High School then graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Deel is a former Melissa Independent School District athletic director who’s served the district for 30 years and is currently Melissa ISD’s executive director of operations. He graduated from Leonard High and then-East Texas State University in Commerce. Over the years, Graham and Deel have broadcast football, basketball, baseball, softball and soccer for Melissa, Sherman, Bonham and surrounding communities.
Graham affably calls Deel “The Most Distinguished Graduate in the History of Leonard High School.” Deel calls Graham “always prepared” and gives him full credit for their success. Their broadcasts have been online at melissaisd.org/mcnradio since 2012, reaching fans and former Cardinals from as far away as Thailand and Germany.
The duo recently sat down in a conference room at First Melissa to discuss this endeavor they both clearly enjoy.
“We don’t take it that seriously,” Graham said. “We want people to have fun. If we’re playing golf together, it’s the same conversation.”
“The only difference is Trey is 100-percent professional,” Deel added. “He’s not going to go in there where he’s not prepared. And I do very little homework, to be honest.”
During games, they keep close ties with listeners through text, email and social media, and often read the messages on-air.
“We like getting emails from listeners,” Graham said. “One, it shows somebody is listening, and that they care. We make a game out of it: Who should it be, Dak or Romo? That was a thing we did for a while. Then, the Blue Jays kept beating up the Rangers, so we ‘hate’ the Canadians. That was a whole thing. … And, of course, we have to talk Army football.”
“It’s great chemistry,” Deel said of their on-air rapport. “Trey is my pastor. Trey is my friend.”
He added that they share not only a love of athletics but faith in Jesus Christ. Deel said he’s often the “straight man” to Graham’s good-natured jabs and volleys toward him.
“Trey will sometimes beat me up on-air, and I take it and laugh,” he said. “From responses we get back from people during the game, I think we’re somewhat entertaining.”
They’ve broadcast from the heights of AT&T Stadium and the American Airlines Center, as well as UT’s Frank Erwin Center and Denton’s Apogee Stadium.
“And we’ve sat on pickle buckets or whatever at baseball games, and on the roof of Community’s press box because there was ‘no room in the inn,’” Graham said.
Graham and Deel are liable to land on most any sports topic during a game — to the delight of listeners. They chronicled Aledo running back Johnathan Gray’s rush to state-record fame in 2011, Bonham football’s recent 25-game losing streak and most everything concerning the Rangers, Cowboys and Mavs. Graham’s barometer for topic-selection?
“I’m curious, so maybe somebody else is,” he said.
‘Here am I…’
Graham’s start in radio play-by-play came about by chance one night at Melissa ISD Stadium. Leonard was playing the Cardinals and Bonham’s KFYN Radio had pegged it as their game of the week. The station general manager was there, all the equipment was there — but their play-by-play guy didn’t show.
“They were panicking,” Graham recalled.
As the crisis peaked, in words perhaps echoing Old Testament prophet Isaiah’s “Here am I, send me,” Graham piped up and said, “I’ll do it for you.” The surprised GM said OK and Graham sat down.
“I didn’t know their call letters, I didn’t know their names, anything,” Graham said. “I said, ‘What station is this?’”
After the game, the GM praised Graham’s turn at the mic and asked how long he’d been doing play-by-play.
“Three hours?” Graham replied.
Duly impressed, KFYN soon had him doing more football, then basketball and baseball.
Graham later deemed he’d prefer to focus on Melissa sports, and the Melissa Cardinal Network was born. After his first two lead analysts — MISD teacher and former Whitewright coach Jody Stringer and Bryan Ward, a dad of a football Cardinal — moved away, Deel was up. He’d been managing MISD Stadium during these early MCN years.
“I’m sure I drug him into it,” Graham said of how Deel ascended to the post. “By that time, Kenny finally had somebody else to run the clock and manage the stadium. He would still get calls in the middle of our broadcast that the toilet is overflowing and the oven in the concession stand doesn’t work.”
Good broadcasters, it is said, have near-constant empathy for the listener. Deel said when he’s on-air, he often thinks of a former Melissa employee who still keeps ties with the community through their broadcasts.
“Friday night’s a pretty important night for him, when he still connects with us and with the school,” he said.
That thought, Deel said, causes him to do his best to “paint the picture” for listeners.
“Every one of those kids out there is somebody’s grandson or granddaughter,” he said. “And a lot of people listening are grandparents. So we’re always careful. This is high school. This is our school. So we are not critical.”
“And we know a lot of them, of course,” Graham added. “A lot of them are part of our church. I’ll have three in high school next year. So there are connections with my kids. … We’re Melissa fans. We’re the Melissa radio broadcast and we know that. Everybody who’s listening knows that.”
And when there’s an injury on the field, Deel and Graham don’t identify the player.
“Now a lot of listeners don’t like that, because they want to know,” Graham said. “But we don’t say, ‘Player X just broke his leg,’ because we know that grandma of Player X is probably listening.”
They also make an effort to be respectful of opponents’s fans, as many schools don’t have devoted broadcast teams and their fans turn to the Cardinals’ feed. Graham said these fans sometimes write to say, “Thanks for mentioning our coach” or “mentioning our players.”
When does Graham start preparing for a football game?
“I’ve already started,” he said. “I do a media guide for the team. I’m working on it now.”
As for game-week prep, Graham said he reads lots of newspapers — the Anna-Melissa Tribune, The Dallas Morning News, the Herald Democrat, as well as “on-line stuff” and Dave Campbell’s Texas Football magazine.
“I just compile notes from everybody,” he said.
This mind-vault of data comes in handy during lop-sided games or extended weather delays.
“If it gets to be a blowout, we’ll start talking about the Cowboys and the Giants this Sunday,” Graham said. “If it’s a close game, we don’t venture off into other stuff.”
Deel’s preparation approach is slightly different. The way Graham and Deel tell it, he strolls into the booth with limited materials in tow and takes his seat, ready for the game to instruct his select musings.
“After he finishes his barbecue, he sits down,” Graham said. “And that’s fine. He knows the kids, he knows the players — he knows sports.”
“I do try to remember to bring a roster to the games,” Deel said.
Pre-game and halftime interviews are taped on Thursdays in a First Melissa recording studio. Cardinals head coach Seth Stinton drops by to visit with Graham for what will become a five-minute pre-game feature. Halftime interviews usually involve MISD superintendent Keith Murphy, though other educators appear as well.
“At the end of the day, those guys work extremely hard,” Murphy said of Graham and Deel. “They travel a lot, they’re always setting up and they’re always calling ahead. They cover Melissa athletics with pride and joy, and they’re a lot of fun to work with.”
Deel noted that Graham also handles broadcast engineering duties and guest bookings.
“So for a small school, a little radio program, I think it’s first class,” Deel said. “And it’s all to his credit.”
Stress? Sure, sometimes — usually due to game-day traffic or an Internet glitch.
“Trey will be praying,” Deel said, “but we’ve always managed to hit game time.”
No doubt, the pair’s most memorable broadcast to date has been Melissa’s 2011 football state championship win at then-Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.
“The whole day was great,” Graham recalled. “I’m sure that was our most number of listeners ever.”
And they capped it off by getting the “scoop” first interview with Stinton after the game. Their plan — call then-Melissa principal Lance Rainey on the sidelines and have him hand the phone to Stinton — worked perfectly.
“The Fox Sports people are waiting to talk to him and he’s talking to us,” Graham recalled. “It was surprisingly loud. We couldn’t really hear. We were screaming in the phone and Seth was screaming. I’m sure it was terrible radio, but it was a cool moment.”
Deel says “historical and sentimental” aspects of that day stand out for him.
“To be there and to witness that, to see 3,000 to 5,000 fans from Melissa, all wearing red, down in one section of that stadium, it was just very special,” Deel said.
Misty Humphries, the parent of a Melissa High student, remembered that broadcast well. It was the first one she’d ever heard.
“I almost felt like I was at the game, as the emotion I heard from Mr. Deel was absolutely heartwarming,” she said. “You could hear his love for the school, the kids and the sport by his reaction when the final seconds ticked off the clock.”
Humphries has been a listener ever since when unable to attend games.
“I also learn from the trivia thrown out by Mr. Graham and the way they talk about Cardinals that have gone on to the next level or done other things after high school that are noteworthy,” she said.
That state-title year, Graham and Deel also broadcast Melissa boys basketball’s state-tourney appearance in Austin.
“And I did Blue Ridge state-finals baseball (that year),” Graham said. “A lot of announcers don’t get to say that.”
Interaction with listeners, both during and after games, gives Graham and Deel insight into their reach. Once, after a game at Abilene’s Shotwell Stadium, the pair headed to Mary’s Café in Strawn, Texas, for chicken-fried steaks — an outpost Deel had recently mentioned on-air. There, a woman walked up and said, “I just want you to know we came here because you said this was going to be the best chicken-fried steak that I’ve ever eaten.” She was from Arkansas and had just watched her grandson play.
“That kind of told us people actually do listen,” Deel said. (Yes, she liked the chicken-fried steak.)
Graham noted that Coach Stinton’s mom, who now lives in Van Alstyne and attends First Melissa, ardently followed the broadcasts when she lived out of state.
“She said it was like The Waltons at their house when all their family gathered around the radio for Cardinals’ games.”
To honor Deel for his three decades of service to Melissa schools, MISD’s future football stadium will bear the name Kenneth M. Deel.
“It’s just a tremendous honor that I’m humbled by and very gracious for,” Deel said. “It has been an honor serving the students, staff and community of Melissa and I hope my health allows me to do so for many years in the future.”
Though the stadium’s completion date is not yet officially known, Graham is ready — chomping at the mic to use some of his new stadium appellations. “The House That Deel Built” and “The Deelitorium” are two examples. Stay tuned — there will be more.
Ultimately, what Graham and Deel hope fans get from their broadcasts is simple: “Just that they were part of the game,” Deel said. “They might have been sitting in Arkansas, but they were part of the game.”
We want to be fun, we want to be encouraging,” Graham added. “And I want it to be informative.”
Cardinal fans, across the county and around the world, clearly think it’s all the above — and more.