WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - To the millions of people who watch their favorite team or player on the "worldwide leader in sports", Sam Gore is a familiar voice. Fans hear the Fayetteville, NC native more than they see him, as he does play-by-play for the game, match or meet being broadcast by ESPN. For more than a quarter-century, Gore has often paired with an expert analyst to smoothly guide fans through the action.
"I embrace what I do because it's a dream come true for me," Gore said. "I remember when I first started working for ESPN, we would sign off the air, up until a few years ago, we would always say 'This has been a presentation of ESPN, the worldwide leader in sports. For more, log on to ESPN.com'. I would get a lump in my throat every time I'd say it, and I'd say it a hundred times a year, but it's still like 'I can't believe I'm getting paid to say this'."
Sam Gore's commentating skills began to develop long before he landed his first job. Gore says he had a fascination with sports announcers, and would verbally run through the action as he and friends played sports growing up in Cumberland County. Gore was a top-notch tennis player from a young age, playing competitively on junior tennis circuits and later becoming a four-time all-conference player at Terry Sanford High School. He enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and graduated in 1989 with a degree in journalism. His goal was to become a network play-by-play man.
Gore had a job anchoring news and sports at a station in Fayetteville when the career door opened. UNC Wilmington needed a new "Voice of the Seahawks", and Gore got the job. He talks about getting the opportunity, and how it helped shape the rest of his career, at 6:40 of the podcast.
"The biggest thing I learned as "Voice of the Seahawks" was work ethic," Gore says. "Honestly, it had nothing to do with broadcasting. It had everything to do with the people I was around. I have never seen a human being work as hard as Joe Browning. Now he's called "media relations", back then he was called "sports information director". Kevin Eastman was head basketball coach at the time. The film sessions they would go to. Seeing Joe on the bus after a game immediately start working on notes for way out in the future. The discipline and work ethic that at that point in my life coming out of college really helped me implement that into preparing for games."
Gore worked in an insurance business while he called the Seahawks' games, and along the way got a taste of doing some events on television. He worked with tennis Hall-of-Famer Cliff Drysdale on a local event called "Landfall Legends". Drysdale lived in Wilmington for a time, and he became a friend and mentor for the young, aspiring play-by-play man. Gore shares those thoughts at 13:15 of the podcast.
"Cliff was always very encouraging of me," Gore says. "He's an analyst and a play-by-play guy, I'm just a play-by-play guy. But he never looked down on me, he never discouraged me. I used to play tennis with him. Hearing Cliff Drysdale stories, and then finally getting to work with him (later at ESPN) was a dream come true."
Gore began doing some regional television games, and then got an opportunity to start doing some events for ESPN. His performance on those telecasts, combined with a knowledge of tennis, impressed producers and led to a full-time gig with the network in 2004.
"The person who was an assistant on one of our productions became a coordinating producer at ESPN," Gore explains. "The coordinating producers are those people who are responsible for individual sports. They asked me if I'd like to do all of ESPN International's tennis. When you go outside the U.S., ESPN broadcasts in other languages, and they have another English broadcast as well. That allowed me to quit the insurance business and I became an ESPN International tennis announcer."
Along with his play-by-play duties for the network, Gore also hosts studio coverage for major tennis events. During the Australian Open in January, Gore had the chance to work side-by-side with longtime friend Drysdale for the first time as commentators. He recently returned from Wimbledon after performing hosting duties at that historic venue, which provided another of what Gore calls "pinch me" moments of his career.
Gore is a man of deep faith, often sharing favorite Bible verses in social media posts, and crediting his personal relationship with God for the many blessings in his life. He traces the beginnings of that commitment to his childhood.
"I can just remember as a child always being very intrigued by God and spiritual things," he says. "I can remember a moment when I was probably about ten years old, and I'd been given a Bible that just sat on my shelf. I can remember the moment I felt prompted to just open it up, and once I started reading it I was just fascinated with it. I've never approached my faith as something I need to try to convince other people unnaturally to believe in. I've never tried to force it on people because I consider myself an actual follower of Jesus Christ. It doesn't come with any political agenda. It doesn't even come with any spiritual agenda, other than to walk with God every day and whatever he puts in front of me, I try to approach as he would."
Gore and his wife Julie have three children, and at times he says they've thought about moving away from Wilmington. But, ESPN allows Sam to live where he wants and commute to assignments, so the family has stayed in the Port City to take advantage of what he calls "a fantastic quality of life". He calls Julie "the rock" of his career, and says she is a bigger sports fan than he is. Gore talks about their relationship at 25:00 of the podcast, including how Julie's knowledge helped when he got the opportunity to add a new sport to his repertoire.
"There's probably been no other sport that I've been asked to do that excited my wife more than when I told her 'Honey, the Professional Bull Riding Tour has asked me to commentate bull riding'," Gore says with a smile. "Rodeo was an actual high school sport where she grew up in Texas. That kind of bull riding is different than the pro tour. But she really helped me with the terminology, with a lot of little nuances of the sport. Then once I got into it, I learned it. To this day, if the guy who does play-by-play, his name is Craig Hummer, has an issue, they call me."
As the calendar turns into August, Gore will be headed to Flushing Meadows, New York to work on U.S. Open Tennis coverage. He will then move into another season of calling college sports action, starting with volleyball, swimming & diving and then basketball. The job demands a lot of travel and preparation, so if you see Sam in Wilmington, he's probably heading to or coming from a workout, or spending time with his family.
"I just really embrace being home when I'm home," he says. "Home for me is a vacation, so just sitting in a room with my dogs, my kids and my wife, running errands. When I'm off for a week, that's pretty much what I'm doing."
You can hear the entire conversation with Sam Gore of ESPN by clicking on one of the links listed below.
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