Raphael's passion for sportscasting grows
Courtesy the Odessa American
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(December 16, 2010) Neal Raphael has left no evidence of his past life.

There are no photos, newspaper clippings or programs adorning the walls of Raphael’s new office at Bowie Junior High. Four photos nestled in the corner of the room are not of Raphael in the coach’s box, but of the former coach at the broadcaster’s table. The shelves are crammed not with trophies, but with antique microphones.

It’s almost as if the last 20 years had never happened.

“When I left, I left,” said the 46-year-old Raphael, who is three months into his first year as assistant principal at Bowie. “All my energy is here. It’s not in the past.”

Raphael is not ashamed of his past, which included a four-year stint as the head girls basketball coach at Permian. After coaching at seven different high schools and colleges across Texas in 20 years, he’s ready to begin a new chapter in his life.

He’s ready, at last, to settle down.

“I put in my 20, and I was tired of moving,” Raphael said. “(Odessa) was a place dear to my heart. It’s a place I really enjoyed for a number of years. I have a lot of good friends here. It felt like the good thing to do.”

On weekdays, Raphael enjoys his new life as an assistant principal. On the weekends, however, he still holds onto a small piece of his past — broadcasting.

Raphael still considers broadcasting a hobby, but as long as he has coached, he has broadcasted. And where coaching has become a part of his past, broadcasting is becoming more and more a part of his future.

Raphael said he will call about 15 women’s college basketball games this season, providing color commentary for UTEP, UT-San Antonio and his alma mater, the University of Houston. He could make TV appearances in the spring, calling games and providing analysis for high school state tournament programs on Fox Sports Southwest.

“Broadcasting is not easy to break into, but if anybody has the knowledge and has the talent, it’s Neal,” said Lincoln Rose, who has called two USTA games on radio with Raphael as a play-by-play analyst. “Every time I’ve come across a broadcast of his or worked with him, I’ve been impressed.”

And Raphael’s experience does not stop at basketball.

Around Thanksgiving weekend, Raphael was approached by Fox Sports Southwest about covering last weekend’s six-man football state championships in Abilene, and even with his lack of knowledge about six-man football, he could not pass on the challenge.

“I was like, ‘I’ll give it my best shot,’ ” Raphael said. “I’d never seen a six-man game in my life, but it was some of the most exciting football I’ve ever seen. It was one of the best nights of broadcasting I’ve ever had.”

Raphael still limits his broadcasting to weekends — it is just a hobby, after all — but he is always open for work, and the calls keep coming in.

“He’s a hungry guy, a guy that aspires to a career in broadcasting,” said Jim Barton, an independent contractor who has helped land gigs for Raphael, including the six-man championships. “He’s got a ways to go, he will admit, but just like he drove himself in coaching, he’s driving himself to get better in broadcasting.”

Raphael began his broadcasting career in 1992 at Wharton High School, which was his first head coaching job.

After Wharton’s season was done, KULP-AM in El Campo needed a radio analyst to call state tournament games, and Raphael was available.

“It was scary, very scary,” Raphael said. “I didn’t want to say too much, didn’t want to say too little. But it was fun.”

Fun enough that Raphael kept going, accepting a couple gigs each year after his season was finished.

He never could stay in one place, moving from Wharton to Athens to Red Oak to Permian to Garland Lakeview Centennial. After a number of stops, he questioned his passion for coaching and wondered whether he was headed down the right path. But the one constant in his life remained his love for broadcasting.

Raphael’s greatest challenge, however, may have been accepting the Permian head coaching position in 2002, after two years as an assistant with the program. Permian was in the midst of a 36-game losing streak in district and had made just two playoff appearances in the last 12 years.

But Raphael made the most of the opportunity, improving the Lady Panthers each year until they broke through to the postseason in 2005. Rapahel’s success as a coach continued after he moved on to Garland Lakeview Centennial starting with the 2006-07 season, and his team made the playoffs three out of his four seasons.

But as Raphael found success, he lost the passion.

“I just knew it was time,” Raphael said of his decision to leave coaching after the 2009-10 season. “I didn’t feel I had the passion for it anymore, and I just thought it was time to do something different.”

Raphael returned to Odessa and got his new job at Bowie through new principal Shelia Stevenson. He still attends basketball games at Permian and Bowie now and then, but each time, he’s only reminded of how happy he is with his decision.

In the past, Raphael had a hard time looking even two years ahead. Now, even the distant future appears clear.

“Four years into the future, I plan on being a junior high principal,” Raphael said. “I really enjoy it. I really enjoy the kids, the faculty.

“It’s been such a rebirth for my life and my career. I see myself as a principal for a long time.”

Read more at the Odessa American where this story was originally published.
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