Anyone who has attended a basketball game at Wheaton North in the past quarter-century has heard Bob Zinke, though many have not have heard of him.
Zinke is in his 25th season as public address announcer for the Falcons. His baritone voice and eclectic wit have entertained fans young and old. Zinke's cherubic smile and humble personality have warmed the hearts of visitors on countless winter nights.
Now what began as a suggestion from his wife, Sheila, has led Zinke to rarefied company. He will be inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in the Friends of the Game category.
“It’s extremely humbling,” Zinke said. “I didn’t realize how far it reached out.
“I had people congratulating me that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen in my life. I went to my doctor the other day and she said, ‘Congratulations.’ I said ‘for what?’ She said for making the Hall.”
It all began with a girl named Hope. Zinke’s daughter, Hope, played basketball for the Falcons in the early 1990s at a time when girls games had no p.a. announcer, leading Sheila to urge him to offer his services.
“That sounded like an interesting idea,” Zinke said. “I had no experience, so I went to Bill Neibch, the athletic director, and said I’ll do it.
“He said, ‘alright, but there’s only one thing. You have to stop yelling at those referees.’”
Zinke now includes the referees in his shtick, introducing them as officials from college conferences such as the Big Ten, SEC and ACC.
If that doesn’t draw laughs from the fans, his promotion of the school’s concession stand does. He includes the actual bill of fare, then urges people to see the maitre’d at the Falcon Feeder for the “full dinner special,” which features a menu fit for a five-star restaurant.
The list induces laughter from those who have never heard it and eye rolls from those who have.
“They love it,” said Karen Calabrese, who has operated the scoreboard while sitting next to Zinke for the past decade. “Everybody leaves here hungry. Restaurants in the area should thank Bob Zinke.”
Zinke came up with the idea early in his career.
“I don't like dead time, so I’d go to different restaurants’ websites and pick out something exotic that nobody would ever believe,” Zinke said. “It’s not rocket science. It’s fun.
“The kids put out a great effort and the refs, the coaches put on a good effort. Why shouldn’t I?”
Zinke has done that in a variety of ways. He’s retired from a 42-year career in, as he puts it, the adult beverage industry, which included 38 years working for the Wirtz Corporation.
He now has a part-time gig as a student supervisor at North. In his free time he and Sheila are active in Wheaton Drama, an amateur theater group, where he has sung in productions such as Guys and Dolls.
“My wife would call it hideous,” Zinke said of his singing.
The theater experience could explain Zinke’s creative wit, though he admits he stole his most famous line from a co-worker at Medinah Country Club, where he tended bar part-time for 15 years.
At the conclusion of every Falcons' game, Zinke thanks everyone for attending, then adds a kicker.
“Have a safe trip home,” Zinke intones. “And if you’re driving, please, take your car.”
Zinke plans to do just that when he travels with his family, which also includes son Paul, to Normal for the May 5 induction at Redbird Arena. Fellow honorees include broadcasters Rich King and Chuck Swirsky, as well as Randy Pfund, the former Wheaton North and Wheaton College star who coached the Los Angeles Lakers from1992-1994.
“It’s very rewarding because it kind of brings everything full circle,” Zinke said. “We have a lot of fun but you do it within the context of trying to be classy about it, so hopefully that’s what we did.”