Lending His Voice To A Cause

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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Bill Schoening

The man behind the microphone at the AT&T Center has a voice that carries beyond the cheers, beyond the rafters, beyond his local radio audience all the way to the heavens.

If Bill Schoening isn’t calling a Spurs game in San Antonio, he’s often making a joyful noise in Austin. Seventy miles up the road, congregants at Bethany United Methodist know Schoening for more than his play-by-play. They know him for his worship.

He doesn’t direct a choir. Doesn’t wear a robe. Doesn’t sing traditional hymns. Instead, Schoening and three other vocalists, backed by a rousing, eight-piece band, belt out edgy, contemporary gospel.

“It’s not rock ‘n roll but we are plugged in,” says Schoening, an Austin resident in his 10th season as the voice of the Spurs. “We’ve got electric and acoustic guitars, organ, piano, bass, drums, saxophone and a flute.”

The man who gives WOAI listeners, “It’s a Manu tres!”, is about to give them a CD of gospel, folk and ballads with the title track, “Second Chance.” The idea for this guitar-playing, singer-songwriter is not to develop a second career. It’s to raise money to prevent malaria in Africa through Nothing But Nets, a global campaign supported by numerous non-profits, including NBA Cares.

Every CD sold will be used to purchase one insecticide-treated bed net that protects families from malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Malaria causes an estimated 350 million to 500 million illnesses each year and one million deaths. According to Nothing But Nets, Africa produces 10 new cases of malaria every second. One child dies from a malaria infection every 30 seconds.

“These nets protect people who live in huts,” Schoening says. “So why not try and help an organization that is saving lives? I’d like to make a thousand CDs, charge $10 per CD and send a thousand nets.”

A family of four can sleep beneath a single bed net. The cost of a net is the same cost as a CD -- $10 -- so Schoening won’t make a cent. What he’ll get is the satisfaction of saving up to four lives for every net sent.

In Africa, malaria is a leading killer of children and the No. 1 killer of refugees. Ninety percent of those who die from the disease are African children. As the Nothing But Nets Web site explains: “Bed nets use a simple but effective prevention approach: eliminate contact with mosquitoes, eliminate malaria.”

Many professional athletes support Nothing But Nets. One of them, Ruth Riley of the Silver Stars, often visits Africa as the WNBA’s spokeswoman for the campaign. She once blogged about a hospital and clinic so overrun with malaria, patients were lying on sidewalks with IV’s. Then she added this line: “The face of malaria looking back at me is a child with yellow eyes and so many flies on their face that I can’t see the opening of their nostrils.”

This is Schoening’s cause. ...

The melody to Second Chance came as he swam in his neighborhood pool. Schoening drove home, composed the lyrics and completed the song in an hour. “It’s R&B gospel,” he says, “inspired by the fact that everyone deserves a second chance. Sometimes you get off track. Sometimes you make mistakes. It’s a redemption song. It’s about figuring stuff out and working to be better the second time around.”

Now for a disclaimer: “I’m not doing this to further my music career,” Schoening says. “I don’t have one.”

Put another way: No one will confuse Schoening with gospel legend Kirk Franklin. And the man who’s called three Spurs championships does not expect a call from the Grammy nominating committee. In the recording studio, Schoening works with some accomplished musicians but wouldn’t call himself a pro. He picked up a guitar for the first time 12 years ago at age 40. He learned a few chords, began writing lyrics, and voila, produced a CD of original tunes in 2001 called, “Life In The Minors.”

Former Spur Brent Barry once described Schoening’s musical genesis this way: “Bill’s first CD was a million seller. He’s a got a million in his cellar.”

Schoening loves to say anyone can learn to strum “Deep In The Heart of Texas.” If you can learn two chords -- D and A -- you can play most of the song. “At least that’s the way I play it,” he says.

Behind the self-deprecating humor is a former spiritual drifter, a soul who five years ago found his own second chance. He wrote the opening line in the second person -- “Your world was falling all around you” -- but says he could have written it about himself.

“I've always been pretty happy go lucky but it wasn't until 2005 that I realized my whole life centered around what I was doing with very little regard to the needs of others,” he says. “I read two books that had a great influence on me: ‘The Purpose Driven Life,’ by Rick Warren and ‘It's Not About Me,’ by Max Lucado. Up until that time, it really was all about me.”

As a kid growing up in Philadelphia, Schoening knew he wanted to call sports on radio. Decades later, he found his voice in a praise band, and later came upon Nothing But Nets, a campaign inspired by a Rick Reilly sports column.

Next thing you know, Schoening is back in the studio with a handful of original tunes. He expects to complete the four-song CD this month and release it in January. “My goal is not to embarrass myself musically,” he says, “and to raise money for charity.”

He doesn’t know how he will market the project. Doesn’t know how he will distribute it. All Schoening knows is that he has to complete it. He can’t save an entire at-risk population in Africa. But he hopes to offer several hundred something he once received himself.

A second chance.