When he was younger, Jerry Schemmel’s primary focus was his broadcasting career.
“Back then, my career was everything, my broadcasting career was everything. I’d been married four years, and I love my wife, but it seemed like she was a distant second to my career,” said Schemmel, who for 10 years was the voice of the Colorado Rockies on KOA Radio.
That was 1989. One day changed everything.
He got one of the last seats on United Airlines Flight 232, flying standby from Denver to Chicago. One of the rear engines failed, exploded and severed fuel lines. The pilots struggled to keep control of the aircraft, which was carrying 296 passengers and crew, and finally crash-landed in a corn field in Sioux City, Iowa.
Schemmel knows had he been in another seat, he would have been among the 112 people who died.
He had no major injuries, and helped get others off the plane. In the aftermath, Schemmel realized his priorities were all wrong.
“Going through a plane crash like that will change your perspective,” he said. “I became a Christian after the crash, so that was a great thing. A lot of good has come from a really tragic event.”
It took about a year to psychologically feel like himself again, Schemmel said, although he’ll never get over the tragedy.
Schemmel will share his story — and plenty of baseball talk — as the featured speaker at the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series tournament banquet on May 22 at Two Rivers Convention Center.
JUCO Chairman Jamie Hamilton has known Schemmel since the 1990s, when they were both exploring the possibility of bringing the Rocky Mountain Rookie League to Colorado. That league never developed, but the two stayed in contact.
When Schemmel was laid off in January by iHeartMedia, which owns KOA, Hamilton reached out in support, and asked if he would be interested in speaking at the banquet.
“We have reached out in previous years but he was always working for the Rockies broadcasts,” Hamilton said. “Their loss is our gain, as his personal experiences have presented a story on perseverance that our student-athletes and fans will appreciate and learn from.”
Schemmel played college baseball at Washburn University (Kansas) and dreamed of playing in the big leagues. It was around his junior year when he realized that wasn’t going to happen, so he started thinking of ways to stay in the game.
“I realized I just wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t that talented,” he said. “I thought the next best thing would be a coach or a broadcaster for baseball, so that’s when the switch turned.”
He not only achieved his goal of broadcasting Major League Baseball games, but he’s also coached, volunteering at Metro State for a couple of years, and then spending 2009 as the Roadrunners’ head coach. He’s also been a volunteer at Colorado Christian, and said he might get back into coaching.
“To get back and be involved with kids and help them in their careers and lives is really rewarding to me,” he said. “That’s a possibility of me getting back into coaching rather than staying in broadcasting. We’ll just have to see if there are any opportunities that way.”
He’s looking to return to the booth — he was the voice of the Denver Nuggets for 18 seasons on radio and television, then got the job calling Rockies games.
The cutbacks at KOA were a shock, he said, and came at the wrong time for someone looking for an MLB broadcasting job, because all of the clubs had filled their positions.
Schemmel plans to spend a couple of days in Grand Junction after the banquet and catch a few games, and said he’ll return to Coors Field sometime this summer, when the sting of no longer calling games subsides.
Until then, he’s got plenty on his plate. An avid bicyclist, Schemmel will enter the Race Across America in June, a 3,000-mile, 13-day race from Oceanside, California, to Annapolis, Maryland. He completed the trek in 2015 as part of a two-man relay team, but this year he’s riding solo, which means he’ll have to average roughly 240 miles a day to make it.
“I do have a little more time to train now, and I was thinking if I didn’t make it, if I didn’t finish in 13 days, then I could blame it on the Rockies schedule,” he said with a chuckle, “but now I don’t have any excuses.”
He’s riding to raise money for the Kyle Pease Foundation, which supports disabled athletes. The Pease brothers completed the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, with the able-bodied brother pulling his brother in a raft, pushing him in a cart and pulling him on his bicycle to complete the race.
That effort inspired Schemmel, who every year on or near the anniversary of the plane crash, rides his bike 112 miles from his home in Littleton to the Air Force Academy, one mile for each victim of the crash.
He’s written a book, :Chosen To Live”, about the effect Flight 232 had on his life, and also wrote “The Extravagant Gift”, an evangelistic outreach booklet.
Although he won’t be behind the mic at Coors Field this season, he keeps tabs on the Rockies, and isn’t sure about the lofty win projections of the front office.
“I think that’s gonna be a challenge,” he said. “They were 20 games under .500 last year. I think if they’re a .500 team, it’ll be a success. They’re going to be better.
“They had everything that could go wrong go wrong last year. They’ll be better, I don’t know if they’ll be that much better, playoff better, with the same cast of characters. I think if they’re a .500 team, you call it a great season.”