While there have been numerous changes across the 690-acre campus of Baylor School over the past five decades, there has been a singular figure of consistency that has become synonymous with the institution’s quest for excellence.
Dr. Dan Kennedy, who will retire as a math instructor this May after 46 years at Baylor, has served as an iconic fixture among the school’s faculty. But Dr. Kennedy’s influence extended well beyond the classroom, his inimitable style and quick wit on display as the long-time voice of Red Raiders athletic events.
The native of Rochester, New York, has manned the public address microphone for Baylor basketball for the past 45 seasons. He’s also announced Red Raiders football for 37 years as well as lending his talents to Baylor’s softball program for more than two decades.
While Dr. Kennedy’s extensive tenure in the classroom draws to a close, he has accepted an invitation to continue his role behind the mic with Baylor athletics into retirement. He will also devote more time to the five math textbooks – ranging from Calculus down to Algebra I – which he has co-authored.
“The things that I’m retiring from mainly are the things that aren’t quite as fun anymore, like grading papers and going to meetings,” Dr. Kennedy said. “To do a basketball game will be a joy without some of the other things that consume my days. I’m still going to have those textbooks, but rather than stealing time I can devote my time during the day.”
Dr. Kennedy’s comfort behind the mic found its origins during his undergraduate years while attending Holy Cross, a Jesuit university located on the outskirts of Boston. It was there he spun discs as a deejay with the campus radio station, eventually earning the role as station manager.
“Because I was a deejay for all those years, I was never shy around microphones. This would have been during the glory years of music, between 1964 and 1968,” he said. “Under my tutelage we went to all of the record distributors in the area and got them to send us free demo copies based on requests from music surveys we’d put out. It became a mutual connection between the two of us – we got their records, and they got the exposure for their songs.”
Dr. Kennedy later matriculated southward, earning his master’s and doctorate degrees in math at the University of North Carolina.
“Two of my friends in the math department (at Holy Cross) who were a year ahead of me wound up going to graduate school in Chapel Hill,” he said. “Because of them I put UNC on my list of graduate schools I was considering. I was also weighing Purdue, Georgetown and Notre Dame, but North Carolina sounded so warm compared to the other schools so I made my southern move.”
Dr. Kennedy initially sought teaching jobs at the collegiate level after completing his studies when he was given a pearl of wisdom that altered the trajectory of his life.
“In the ‘70s there weren’t a lot of openings at universities and colleges partly because of the (Vietnam) war. People wanted to make sure that if they were inside the ivied walls, they were protected by the ivied walls. So, it was very popular to be in education in those days as there was usually a draft deferment for teaching faculty.
“I talked to Dr. Bob Mann, who oversaw the undergraduate teaching in the math department at UNC. He told me, ‘If I were in your shoes, I’d look for a job at a good prep school. The students that are good in math will be good at an early age, and you’ll have a lot more appreciation of good teaching at that level than at the university level.’ He happened to know of a good prep school, and it was Baylor.”
Dan Kennedy’s first visit to Baylor’s stately campus made a lasting impact.
“I had never seen a high school like this. I walked across the campus and thought to myself, ‘I could be happy for a few years at this place,’” he said, never dreaming he would spend his entire teaching career at there.
It was in 1974, his second year at Baylor, that he was approached by basketball coach Jimmy Duke and assistant Doug Hale about taking on the role of PA announcer.
“I think they mainly did that because I was a fan of the basketball team,” he said. “I was there anyway, so they asked me to be the announcer. I did that for several years before being asked to do football as well.”
Dr. Kennedy had garnered a love for basketball while at North Carolina, but he quickly found himself on a learning curve while in the public eye.
“In the early days I really didn’t know as much about basketball as I do now,” he said. “I was a fan, but I wasn’t a student of the game. I can remember depending upon the refs to tell me whether it was a one-and-one or a two-shot foul. In those days the referees kind of picked up on my naivety because they would go out their way to make sure I knew what to announce. Looking back, that’s embarrassing because if one is going to announce a game, they should have that subtlety mastered beforehand.”
After Jimmy Duke retired from coaching in 1980, Austin Clark assumed the helm of the basketball program two years later. His coaching tenure at Baylor spanned 36 seasons before stepping down last year.
“The thing that makes him unique is that he’s dependable and was a professional with everything he did,” Coach Clark said. “He would also make things entertaining for the fans by bringing in a clever comment from time to time. He is absolutely brilliant and always genuine.”
Dan Kennedy’s appreciation for Austin Clark blossomed during the overlap of their many years with Baylor basketball.
“It was always a trip first watching him because he was so animated on the sidelines from the very beginning,” Dr. Kennedy said. “At first he was kind of intimidating, but over time we became good friends. In fact, I got to know him so well I could tell when he was about to get T’d up.”
Dr. Kennedy has witnessed countless buzzer-beaters and historic moments during his time with the Red Raiders, but he points to the era in the late ‘70s as some of his fondest memories.
“There have been all kinds of memorable players, but the one that stands out to me the most was Jimmy Braddock,” Dr. Kennedy said. “That’s partly because he went to North Carolina, and it was a wonderful moment when he announced he’d be headed to Chapel Hill.”
It was during Braddock’s recruitment in 1979 that Dr. Kennedy had the opportunity to meet legendary Tar Heels coach Dean Smith.
“I spotted him in the stands during the JV game one time when he was here,” he said. “I wasn’t announcing that game, so I introduced myself and we chatted for a while. After he got back to Chapel Hill, he wrote me a letter telling me how much he enjoyed meeting me. I’m sure it was all part of trying to get Jimmy to come and to get me on his side. But he didn’t need to do that because I was already on his side.”
Those were before the days when a separate division was created for the private schools within the TSSAA, and Dr. Kennedy relishes the memory of those cross-town rivalries.
“We had some memorable games at Howard and Brainerd that were classics,” he said. “Those were actually more fun for me than rivalries with the other private schools like we have now. It seemed to be a lot more electric atmosphere than every game other than the McCallie games.”
During his early years at Baylor, Dan Kennedy toyed with the idea of teaching at the college level and eventually had offers to serve as headmaster at other schools. But after receiving the Cartter Lupton Distinguished Professor of Mathematics award in 1981, he realized he had found a permanent home.
“By that time, I was happy at Baylor,” he said. “When they gave me the Lupton Professorship, I was hooked. I figured that if they’re willing to put that investment into me, then I should stick around.”
Dr. Kennedy lived on campus for 27 years as a dorm parent in Lupton Hall, where he baked a cake for each resident on his birthday. He chaired the math department for 18 years and received the 1995 Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching. From 1986 to 1994, he served as one of six members of the Advanced Placement Calculus Development Committee, becoming the first high school to chair the committee his final four years.
Dr. Kennedy has always viewed his involvement with Baylor athletics as another investment into the lives of his students. His classroom features the lone remaining chalkboard on the campus, on which he draws out the bracket for the NCAA basketball tournament each March.
“You can become a better teacher if you become involved in other aspects of the students’ lives,” Dr. Kennedy said. “I think the very fact I attend those games and am clearly supportive of the programs, the students pick up on that and they’re more inclined to give me a break as someone who cares about them outside the classroom. I’ve always thought that is an important part of why I do that.”
While Dan Kennedy’s retirement will leave enormous shoes to fill on Baylor’s faculty, he has no plans to give up his announcing gig anytime soon.
“Looking back, these years have really gone by quickly,” he said. “I can still remember the early days that seem like only yesterday. But I look forward to remaining connected to the school through athletics. I know that eventually I’ll move on from that as well, and somebody will take over who may be better than I was.”
It’s unlikely that anyone will be able to exceed Dan Kennedy’s contributions to Baylor, either in the classroom or elsewhere. For the past 46 years, his influence has helped shape the lives of countless students as well as those who were fortunate enough to call him a friend.
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