Separated by one state line dividing a fierce rivalry, the courtside microphones at Value City Arena and the Crisler Center share a common terminus.
If you trace back the cord that feeds Matt Leininger, whose booming voice emanates from his courtside seat in Columbus, it will lead you to Bowling Green. And there, smack-dab in the thick of the rivalry that is Ohio State and Michigan, is where Anthony Bellino's path to a courtside spot in Ann Arbor likewise began.
A friendship that started in college now has the two former Falcons prominently placed as the in-arena voices whenever the Buckeyes and Wolverines hit the hardwood at home. Tuesday night, in a game against two teams seeking to put a midseason slide firmly in the past, it will be Bellino who gets the first shot at calling the rivalry game. Three hours south, Leininger will be proud of his friend while pulling for the Buckeyes.
“I think I consider it the same way as coaches on the opposing side that they probably coached together at some point,” Leininger told The Dispatch. “There's razzing that can happen, but at the end of the day I consider him a friend. I respect him as somebody in the industry.”
It's not the first battle lines drawn between these friends. Leininger got his Columbus start as the public-address announcer for the Clippers in 2011 and learned that Bellino was likewise calling games for the Toledo Mud Hens.
“What are the odds that two people who met in college would be working at this level?” Bellino said. “And for that to be first jobs, too, is pretty neat, when you think about a lot of the climbs that play-by-play guys have to do. We lucked out and walked right into the triple-A level.”
Leininger calls multiple Ohio State sports and works full time for the Clippers. Bellino works as the public announcer for Toledo football, men's basketball and women's basketball games, Michigan's men's and women's basketball games and also has hosting duties for the NFL's Detroit Lions and Toledo Walleye minor-league hockey team.
He also hosts a morning radio show in Toledo.
“I've got my one full-time job, and then I announce for four different sports and I do commercials and stuff,” Leininger said. “He's like, no, I'm up at 6 a.m. to do my morning radio show and then I'm going here to do this and then I've got to do this and then I'm driving from Toledo to Ann Arbor.”
The two bring strikingly different approaches to the microphone. Leininger's booming voice could seemingly fill the arena without electric amplification, while Bellino's disdainful delivery of the names of opponents who score verges on disapproval. Leininger described his counterpart as more multidimensional, and laughed while describing Bellino's delivery as sounding “annoyed” at opponents.
“That is basically what I envision myself as doing: discouraging the other team from that type of behavior,” Bellino said. “I just try to approach it with some enthusiasm and a little bit of fanhood as well. We're allowed to be a little biased for our guys and non-encouraging for the away team.”
Both Bellino and Leininger described their pride and gratitude for having worked to their current positions. As Bellino put it, jobs like theirs are often held for decades by one person, making the likelihood that they would both be part of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry rather slim.
And yet, here they are.
“It's 10 years of humble beginnings from South Hall in Bowling Green State University,” Leininger said. “It's cool when you see somebody you know and you know where they've come from and to see them just continue to grow and succeed and get better at their craft. I'm damn proud of that kid.”