George Estell’s voice is unmistakable to anyone who hears it.
For over a decade, it’s boomed through the loudspeakers at Forsyth Central sporting events —basketball, football, softball, among others.
That voice is also easy to distinguish. People he knows who aren’t speaking to him in person know who it is immediately when they hear it.
“I guess my voice is distinct because I can call a family member (and they'll say), ‘You've got a voice and you can't disguise it,’” Estell said.
After spending 12 years as the "Voice of the Bulldogs," Estell decided to retire from announcing Central games back in December. The mark he’s made on Central comes from more than just announcing sporting events, though: He’s still at the school as a special education teacher, and as a former design major, he’s also played a part in the physical look of certain elements of the school and athletic facilities.
Now 69, Estell is looking forward to what the next steps in his life are, including spending more time with his 12 grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
“It's kind of humbling,” Estell said. “Everybody calls me the 'Voice of the Bulldogs,' but it took me a minute to accept that because I don't like to be in the limelight.
“It's a blessing, man. I realize it's a God gift. Now that I've retired from doing this now, that's the next step in my career march, I guess you could say, doing voice talent (and) voiceover work... that's what I want to get back to doing now that I have the time to do it.”
Estell grew up in Anniston, Alabama, and always saw radio as a passion of his. He’d listen to Tennessee football on the radio, not knowing that he’d one day be a student there. Legendary Volunteers football announcer John Ward had a big impact on him, and when Estell announced basketball games at Central, he put his own spin on Ward’s famous ‘It’s football time in Tennessee’ introduction.
"It's basketball time in the 'Dawg Pound.'"
But back then, he was focused on another radio job.
“I'd always dreamed of being a disc jockey,” Estell said. “Even as a kid, I had a transistor radio and I'd lay in bed at night (listening). I got it for Christmas, so during that Christmas break, I'd listen to all these skip signals.”
When he finally got to Knoxville, though, he focused on a different kind of art, majoring in commercial art, communications and design. He took a journalism course after he graduated, which ultimately led him down the path to radio. He took a job at the radio station at Knoxville College from 8 p.m. to midnight.
From there, he worked multiple jobs in radio, including at the now-defunct 96Rock in Atlanta, alongside his career as a commercial artist. But through it all, there was one job he knew he didn’t want to do, at least initially.
“Everybody in my family's a teacher,” Estell said. “My mother taught math and science for 30 years in my hometown of Anniston. I've got an aunt that was over in Birmingham — she was big into education and had some kind of high office in Alabama education. I had a cousin that was a principal up in Detroit, so everybody in my family was in education. I saw the good, the bad and the ugly of education and that was the last thing I wanted to do.”
As time went on, though, that slowly changed. Out of college, he had trouble looking for a job in his field, so people close to him suggested he try teaching. He started as a substitute teaching commercial art in Knoxville and was actually offered a contract, but he turned it down to work in his field.
But after getting laid off every few years near the turn of the century, his wife suggested he think about going back to the classroom. He got certified and began working at Campbell High School in Smyrna teaching special education. Before that, he was a chaperone in Tennessee for the Special Olympics, and that was his turning point.
“After I started, I loved it,” Estell said. “You couldn't pull me out of a classroom with a team of Clydesdales, man. I really enjoyed working with the kids.”
Campbell’s administration knew about Estell’s history in radio, so they asked him to do some sports announcing as well. When he made the move to Central in 2008, then-principal Rudy Hampton asked him to continue in that role.
“Before school started that year, I came and I was just coming down the front hall before school started, just touring the school and getting used to where everything was,” Estell said. “He and (then-softball coach) Bill Richardson came around the corner and Rudy said, ‘Well, here's your announcer right here!’ They had been talking about it — Bill came to him and said he needed an announcer for softball.”
So, softball was the first sport he announced at Central, followed by plenty of others. He even coached basketball for three years, doing that work at practices before announcing the games. He’s seen plenty of downs for Central athletics, but in recent years, he’s seen the Bulldogs start to finally gain their footing.
“That's seeming to be turning around, and because the population is increasing, you're going to get some good athletes out of that,” Estell said. “It's good to see these kids, man. They deserve a break. They deserve to get some of these good breaks.
“When I came here, Central was the doormat of the county, but now they're being recognized and they can make a statement.”
Even with his distinctive voice, Estell put a lot of work into his craft in the press box. To him, announcing is much more than just how you sound.
“If you're prepared, it makes it sound easy,” Estell said. “I do my game prep, I do my research on the teams that we're playing and try to get as much information (as I can). I go down and get the lineup from the coaches and go through the names, make sure I have the names so I can pronounce them. Just the little things make a big difference in the way you sound and your delivery. It sounds like you know what you're doing.”
But even though Estell’s voice won’t filling the stands at Central games anymore, it will continue to make an impact inside Central’s walls. There isn’t another place he’d rather be.
“I've had a great experience here at Central, man,” Estell said. “It's a family atmosphere. When I came, I bet over half the faculty had gone to school here and they came back to teach. That created that closeness, that oneness. When I joined the staff here, it was like I'd been here all the while. Folks are just so friendly and loving, and we've got a bunch of good kids here.”