ST. ALBANS — Long before the varsity players are in uniform, Alek Wolfe has already begun preparing for that night’s game.
Bursting with energy, the Bellows Free Academy-St. Albans freshman is conducting pre-game interviews — with classmates and coaches — before he finds a quiet moment in the bleachers to listen again to old game tapes, mastering his craft, memorizing his delivery.
Two energy drinks later, as the varsity team takes the court, Alek, 16, is front and center at the scorers table. Despite being born without sight, he’s the eyes and voice of everything in the gymnasium.
Since the middle of the season this year, Alek Wolfe has been a fixture at BFA-St. Albans boys and girls varsity basketball games, where he announces the starting lineups and credits the scorers during the game.
It isn’t Alek’s first moment in the spotlight. As an eighth grader at St. Albans City School he received attention from local media —and from a viral YouTube video — when he sank a shot during a game while managing the City School basketball team.
Alek has always had a passion for announcing games. With the help of BFA junior girls varsity basketball player Olivia Venturo, he was introduced to athletic director Dan Marlow, expressing interest in announcing. Alek proposed a single-game tryout. Marlow gave him the rest of the season.
“It’s nerve-wracking because I feel like I’m going to mess up,” Alek said. “But I run the starters through my head and I just make sure I have them in order. But really if it’s a challenge, I try to overcome it. It’s hard to, sometimes, because I want to give up. But then I say to myself, ‘Believe.’”
Born prematurely without sight, Alek said he could feel the pace of the game as the players race from end to end. He welcomes the teams and announces the starting lineups over the P.A. system, then during the game provides color commentary into his own private recorder that he keeps in front of him at the scorer’s table.
The system hinges on a close partnership with Enosburg teacher Ben Marlow, son of Dan, who works the table at BFA games next to Alek. Ben is Alek’s eyes, and he gives the play-by-play while Alek fills in the commentary.
I think we kind of developed our system together,” Ben said. “But Alek has a feel for the game. I can tell he’s become so much more comfortable. He doesn’t make mistakes. If he makes them, it’s because I made the mistake relaying the message to him.”
When senior Andi Esenler hit another 3-pointer to complete a roaring comeback by the Comets in the fourth quarter, Alek is there, exploding into his recorder along with the rest of the crowd.
“You can feel it. You can feel the energy. It’s hard not to be energetic on commentary,” Alek said.
Alek lives with his mother, Stacy Wolfe, in St. Albans City with an older sister and brother. He grew up listening to wrestling on the television, and credits wrestling announcers for his passion in color commentary. As an eighth grader, the St. Albans City School basketball coach asked him to be the team manager.
“My former coach, Scott Martin, got me to love basketball. He’s so passionate and it’s hard to be around him and not love the sport,” Alek said. “Just the way that he taught me and the way that he taught the team and the way that he brought me into it, just made me love it even more.”
Alek never expected to be inserted in a game last January. But Martin asked him to take a break from announcing one night, and his teammates’ lined him up under the basket on an inbounds play. On his third attempt, the shot went in. The basket counted, and his name was officially in the scorebook. That video garnered thousands of views on YouTube, and was shared across Facebook locally.
Even as a young child, Alek remembers attending a game at BFA, wishing he could be closer to the action. But never did he think he would be the voice of BFA athletics on game nights.
He lists wrestling commentators Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler as two of his greatest influences, along with Dick Vitale, the legendary voice of college basketball on ESPN. Without hesitation, Alek said he wants to continue announcing as a career path. He plans on sitting behind the scorers table during basketball game for his entire high school tenure.
Like anyone with a drive to be successful, Alek knows he has to keep practicing. “If you want to be an announcer, you work at it. Start with your own radio broadcast. Take a recorder. Put your own game together. If you feel you’re not getting anywhere, keep trying at it,” he advised.
As the players take the court on the BFA girls’ Senior Night, it’s Alek with the microphone, the players ready for the starting lineups.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to Bellows Free Academy, home of the BFA Bobwhites and your BFA Comets, for tonight’s home game against the Spaulding Crimson Tide and YOUR BFA Comets.
“Howrigan for three, and there’s the first three-point score of the night.”
The game begins. And Alek sees everything.