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Opinion

On the Town: Sports broadcasting organization holds awards luncheon, bestows honors

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SoCalSports Broadcasters Scholarship winner Zachary Niccoli is flanked by Michael J. Laponis, left, and Channel 7 sports broadcaster Rob Fukuzaki.
(Ruth Sowby Rands)

The SoCalSports Broadcasters held its 29th annual awards luncheon last week. Glendale resident Lynda Burns is a longtime member, having been asked to join the organization by founding member Chuck Benedict in 1977. The late Benedict was a Glendale resident, sports writer, broadcaster and News-Press columnist.

Burns was the “goddaughter” of the late Jack Kent Cooke. Both are native Canadians. Cooke was the former owner of the Los Angles Lakers. During his ownership, the Lakers reached seven NBA finals, winning the top title in 1972.

As a member of the Glendale Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast for many years, Burns would frequently take advantage of her professional sports contacts to find keynote speakers for the breakfasts. In 2016, Jim Fox, former ice hockey player for the Los Angeles Kings, was the speaker at the 53rd annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. Fox is also Canadian.

Joining the Sports Broadcaster’s board of directors gave Burns the opportunity, in her words, “to showcase women and girls in broadcasting.” Burns continued mentoring women and girls when she served for nine years on the Glendale Commission on the Status of Women.

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Burns’ front-and-center seat at the Sports Broadcaster’s Awards gave her a bird’s-eye view of the proceedings. The organization’s four-term president and former “Voice of the UCLA Bruins,” Chris Roberts, welcomed some 160 members and guests to the awards luncheon, held at the Lakeside Country Club in Burbank. Roberts is also on the group’s board of directors.

The program was devoted to handing out the 2019 On-Air Awards. Ralph Lawler, the radio “voice” of the Clippers for 40 seasons, was the recipient of the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award. Lawler’s long list of honors includes a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and three Emmys as part of Prime Ticket’s Clipper coverage.

Hall of Fame inductees were Matt Stevens and Bill Macdonald.

Stevens is a retired football quarterback who played one season in the National Football League. He played for the Kansas City Chiefs following the 1987 NFL strike.

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Comedian Tom Dreesen joins Glendale resident Lynda Burns at the SoCal Sports Broadcasters’ awards luncheon.
(Ruth Sowby Rands)

Macdonald has been the TV play-by-play announcer for the Los Angeles Lakers for nine seasons. He is on Spectrum SportsNet, alongside color commentator Stu Lantz. Macdonald has worked in a variety of capacities over the years as host, field reporter and play-by-play announcer for professional basketball, baseball and hockey. He is a four-time local Emmy Award winner.

Lawler, Stevens and Macdonald were present at the awards luncheon to receive their awards.

One of the highlights of the program was the announcement of the 2020 Tom Harmon/Jerry Clark Memorial Scholarship. Zachary Niccoli, 20, is a broadcast major in his junior year at the University of LaVerne.

“I chose to pursue broadcasting because it allows me to express my drive and passion for sports,” Niccoli said. He aspires to stay in Southern California and “call games.”

At the awards ceremony, Niccoli was introduced by Michael J. Laponis, communications professor at the University of LaVerne. A well-known former student of his, KABC Channel 7 sportscaster Rob Fukuzaki, was also present to introduce Niccoli. Fukuzaki was a student of Laponis’ 35 years ago. After graduation, Fukuzaki landed a job at Channel 7.

“Back then, there weren’t a lot of people looking like me,” said Fukuzaki, who is of Japanese descent. He has been Channel 7’s sports broadcaster for 25 years and was inducted into the Sports Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame in 2016.

Fukuzaki founded the Heads Up Youth Foundation dedicated to supporting underprivileged, at-risk, homeless and foster youth in Southern California.

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Comedian Tom Dreesen was guest speaker. He is known for opening for Frank Sinatra in club and concert venues. Sinatra called him “master of masters of ceremonies.” Burns posed with him for photographs.

Lunch was served, and Burns reminisced about her “sports family.” Her father was a runner and her mother played golf. As a child, she would play with their winning medals and cups.

“We watched a lot of sports on TV,” she said.

Burns has also been honored as a Woman of Achievement by Business Life magazine.

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