by Gene Marrano
Dave Ross has been a part of the media fabric in the Roanoke Valley for the past three decades-plus, and he’s now finishing up his first year as president of the Roanoke Valley Sports Club. Ross was most recently seen and heard on television with WDRL until that independent station went under a few years ago. There he broadcast high school and college sports, including Roanoke College basketball games.
Ross, who was also once a sportscaster for Channel 10, has resurfaced on the radio side, broadcasting games for ESPN Radio-1240am and recording sports vignettes for Fox Radio 910am. High school basketball games were on Ross’s agenda this past season, when he witnessed Cave Spring’s run to the Group AA state title game, where the Knights lost. “You can’t say enough about the job [Head Coach] Billy Hicks did,” said Ross. The Knights made that run without a J.J. Redick or a Josh Henderson on their roster either. “That says a tremendous amount about a coach’s ability,” notes Ross.
The Hidden Valley and Glenvar boys’ teams also impressed Ross, who believes the valley “probably has the best high school coaches in the state. They don’t have the population base [as in other parts of the state]. Look at how many teams make it to state championships. They do a great job.” Ross has called games that featured future professional players in several sports, and remains impressed by the level of talent that comes out of the Roanoke-Lynchburg-New River Valley area.
Ross has been president of the Roanoke Valley Sports Club for the past year. The group meets on the third Monday of every month at the Salem Civic Center, to eat dinner and listen to a guest speaker. In the 1970’s when Ross first joined the club, “it was huge.” Before speaker fees for the most prominent sports personalities went through the roof it wasn’t uncommon for the likes of Bob Knight, Woody Hayes or Lefty Driesell to address the club.
Now the speakers are usually more local – and affordable – but Virginia Tech and UVA still send football coaches to the Sports Club as speakers. Former pro athletes from the area or head coaches from college programs around the state are also headliners. Often a second speaker will talk for a few minutes about a local team or school as well.
UVA men’s basketball coach Tony Bennett was the guest speaker at a recent meeting. Ross said schools like Virginia and Virginia Tech can be competitive at the highest level in the ACC and notes that Bennett took his Washington State team to the Sweet 16 once. Players that leave college after a year or two make it more difficult but “it can be done,” said Ross.
Roanoke College men’s basketball games were a specialty for Ross while with WDRL, often broadcasting Maroons games with former Head Coach Ed Green doing color. Roanoke College has fallen on hard times regarding wins and losses in recent years, but he doesn’t think changing the head coach at Roanoke College is the answer; Page Moir has been entrenched for two decades. The issue is that the Old Dominion Athletic Conference has been pushed to improve – in large part by success Roanoke College enjoyed over the years. “There’s not really a bad team in that league. You don’t have an easy night against anybody in that league. It’s so much better [now],” noted Ross.
One of his past stops included working in sales for the now-defunct Roanoke Express hockey team. Ross isn’t sure that professional hockey will work here on a permanent basis – and isn’t optimistic that a recent announcement about a new league that wants to place a team at the Roanoke Civic Center will actually happen. “You have to get it to where [salaries] are low enough, and you have a venue where you get the concessions. You cannot do it on just the gate [receipts]. It won’t work.”
That’s been a complaint for hockey teams based at the Roanoke Civic Center in the past – that they shared little or none of the concession receipts with the City of Roanoke, which operates the Civic Center. A smaller venue with fewer seats and less overhead might work better as well but, of course, there is no other such facility in town at the moment. As for keeping a team in town long term – the Vipers folded after just one season, leaving unpaid bills in their wake – Ross won’t make a prediction: “I’m not sure what the answer is.”