Only On CBS2: Sports Announcer Overcomes Autism To Pursue Dream Job
Sports Fan Insider
SAN PEDRO (CBSLA.com) — Jamaal Street, 33, has a distinctive voice and extensive sports knowledge which makes him an in-demand announcer for games at San Pedro High School.
With the skills needed to call the plays, people are usually amazed when they find out Street has autism, a disease that affects social skills, language and behavior.
The diagnosis, made when Street was nearly three years old, brought his mother to tears.
“There were a lot of tears, a lot of tears, but we prayed a lot. My faith is in God. We prayed a lot once we found out,” Street’s mother Lydia Haley said.
Haley is now a single parent of five who works at San Pedro High as a special education teacher’s aide.
She said she never let her son’s autism place limits on his future.
Even when one woman told her that Jamaal wouldn’t go far, Haley said she was determined that her son would make something of his life.
“She ignited the spark in me to make sure Jamaal was never that kid that didn’t because she said he wouldn’t,” Haley said.
She said she focused on Street’s strengths and didn’t worry about what he couldn’t do.
From the time Street was 18 months old, Haley saw that music has always played a big part in her son’s life. He played the keyboard as a child and transitioned to playing the organ for his church.
Another melodic sound changed Street’s life forever – it was the voice of Laker legend Chick Hearn.
“I can’t remember the full details that day, but I do remember when I turned on the radio, when I first heard Chick, game two of the 1985 NBA…’84 Finals I should say, when the Celtics came back to win in overtime…that’s when I first fell in love with it,” Street said.
As a child, Street would sit with a microphone in front of the TV and turn the volume down so he could voice a play-by-play like Hearn.
Haley said it hit her son hard when Hearn passed away.
In 1996, while a junior at San Pedro High, Street got his first break when he was named the school’s public address announcer. And by 2001, his dream job became a reality when he was hired to do his first play-by-play game for Cox Cable.
“I felt it was an uplifting experience for me because I got to do it where finally people would be watching it on TV. Even though it was just for the local community, I felt it was like being in Hollywood,” Street said.
Cox Cable producer Carlos Rivera said Street’s memory is part of what makes him an exceptional sports announcer.
“[Street] has a natural ability to remember stats, names and can, actually, probably tell you half the scores from that first game, what school they went to and what they are doing now. I couldn’t remember what I had for dinner last night,” Rivera said.
Eventually, Street got the chance to interview one of his heroes — CBS2/KCAL9 sports anchor Jim Hill.
Some 12 years later, Street is like the Chick Hearn of the airwaves in San Pedro.
And for Lydia Haley, he is all that and more, holding a special place in this mother’s heart.
“I love him. He knows he’s my hero. He knows he’s my hero. He calls me, his mom, hero and he’s my hero,” Haley said.