AUDL Profile: Evan Lepler
High above Breese Stevens Field in Madison, Wis., Evan Lepler, the AUDL’s lead play-by-play announcer for ESPN3, was busy prepping for that evening’s game between the Madison Radicals and Minnesota Wind Chill. Surrounded by cameras, sound equipment, a shirtless and sweaty producer and several shirted others, Lepler, sporting a suit and tie, stared intently at a list of player names, practicing their pronunciation.
“It’s like studying for a test—it’s an all-encompassing lifestyle,” he said while scanning rosters. In the week leading up to a game, Lepler reads game recaps, watches film, interviews two or three people from each team, and listens to local broadcasts just in case they can give him a helpful tidbit or two. “I get stressed out when I’m doing the prep work, but when the game starts, it’s showtime.”
He can’t estimate how many hours of prep each game entails, but for Lepler, it’s worth the late nights. This is his first season calling games for the AUDL, and it’s pretty much a dream job for the 28-year-old broadcaster who cut his teeth providing color commentary for USA Ultimate’s Triple Crown Tour last year.
Lepler is a student of the game of ultimate and the art of broadcasting. He’s the type that watches highlight reels and Callahan videos during long airport layovers, and listens to broadcasters like Doc Emrick and the Red Sox’s Dave O’Brien in order to pick up new phrases and vocabulary words he can use on air to describe the action on the field. His goal is to introduce more casual sports fans to ultimate, and getting league games broadcast on ESPN3 is a good first step.
“In my wildest dreams, maybe I thought about this, but I certainly didn’t think it was a realistic opportunity,” he gushed. “This is a great step in making ultimate more legitimate to the mainstream, and it’s an incredible honor and opportunity.”
“For ultimate, it’s a totally blank slate,” Lepler went on. “Anyone can say ‘unbelievable sky or huge layout’ – and that’s boring. You look for word variation and coming up with creative ways to describe things. You know, I heard a word today watching the World Cup. A broadcaster said ‘he chiseled the pass forward,’ and I thought hey, I could use that word in ultimate. ‘The flick chiseled into the end zone up line for the score.’”
He paused, listening to the way his phrasing sounded.
“It’s an incredible honor.”
Lepler stumbled into ultimate broadcasting much like he stumbled into the sport. In his first year at Wake Forest University, he assumed he’d fight off the freshman 15 playing pick up basketball. But in his first week on campus he spotted a flier for ultimate in his dorm, and headed to the quad to check it. He played barefoot for hours, and was hooked. The summer between freshman and sophomore year he threw for one or two hours a day, and eventually captained the men’s squad at Wake Forest for two years.
While he would have loved to keep playing, Lepler wanted to be a sports broadcaster since he was 8 or 9 years old (“You get paid to watch sports. How great is that?” he said, no further justification needed). So after graduation, he decided not to get involved in the ultimate club scene, which would require practices on nights and weekends, in favor of working his way up the broadcast ladder. For four years, he covered men’s and women’s college basketball and minor league baseball, and the occasional college football game.
And then in 2013 a friend sent him a job posting: USA Ultimate was looking for a color commentator for the College Championships and U.S. Open, and a year later the AUDL called him up with the too-good-to-be-true ESPN3 opportunity. He leapt at the chance to cover the professional version of the sport he first fell in love with on the quad at Wake Forest.
“I like to tell stories,” he said. “For the AUDL, I like to talk about ultimate and what’s going on in the league. I like to explain things—how do you do this, how do you do that—to help out young players and try to teach them how to play the game.”
But while Lepler would love to spend hours dissecting his broadcasts and trying to find ways to better punctuate a great play and engage the audience more, he has to balance his ultimate work with his day job. See, Lepler is also the radio voice of the Salem Red Sox, a class A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox in Virginia. Throughout the five-month season, he’ll call 140 games or more for the team, where he is also the director of media relations. On the weekends, he criss-crosses the country covering games for the AUDL.
It’s a grueling schedule. In the week before the Radicals-Wind Chill game, Lepler left San Francisco on a redeye flight Saturday evening; called a game in Lynchburg, Va., on Sunday afternoon; drove straight to Frederick, Md., for games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; went back to Salem, Va., for games Thursday and Friday; and headed out to Madison Saturday. He was due to leave Madison on Sunday at 5:30 A.M.
“Last week feels like ages ago,” Lepler said. But it’s not like he’s complaining—he wouldn’t have it any other way.
- Caitlin Cieslik-Miskimen and Adam Ruffner