With the high school and college football seasons in full swing, I could feel the excitement in Gerhard Mathangani, the latest member of the sports team at WKRG. He arrived in March 2023, just in time to get a good look at which Region 1 area high school teams have the potential to go the distance in this year’s state football competition.
He and Sports Director Simone Eli aired a spring football series called 33 Teams in 33 Days, which gave Gerhard a good perspective on what he might expect from this year’s high school season. “Mobile and Baldwin County’s Class 6A Region 1 is as competitive top-to-bottom as any region in the state this year. It should be interesting and fun to watch.” He lists Saraland, Theodore, Spanish Fort, St. Paul’s, and Blount as potential contenders.
“I’m looking forward to seeing Saraland play Theodore and St. Paul’s against Spanish Fort. A lot of local teams in Class 6A will be vying for a state championship. Only four can make it into the playoffs in Region 1, but if any one of them can squeeze in, I believe they have a shot at winning the whole thing.”
Gerhard knows a thing or two about football and rivalries. He played in two championship games at Homewood High School in Birmingham. He played outside linebacker, and in 2000, Homewood won it all in a famous five-overtime classic against Benjamin Russell, whom they had lost to in the regular season—the final score: 42 to 34.
The following year, Homewood, who then played in Alabama’s Class 5A division, went undefeated, beating Benjamin Russell in the regular season opener 18-15 (another overtime game), but lost to them 20-13, in the Championship game. “We played them five times in three seasons when I was at Homewood. It developed into a short-term very competitive rivalry, but it always provided a great game.”
Gerhard was born in Fairfax, Virginia to parents who moved to the U.S. from Kenya in the late 1970s. His father, Samson, was a pastor with the Baptist World Alliance in Falls Church, Virginia. Gerhard is named after his father’s mentor, Gerhard Claas (of German origin) who was the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. Samson Mathangani and Claas were among a team of pastors who ministered worldwide. “The Claas family has meant so much to my family over the years, in more ways than can be counted.”
When he was five, his parents moved the family to Birmingham and his father joined the seminary program at Samford’s Beeson Divinity School and later served as a professor at Birmingham Baptist Bible College. His mother, Mary, is a charge nurse at Grandview Medical Center in Birmingham. Gerhard is the oldest of three - Marjory (sister) & Daniel (brother) were all very close growing up in Homewood.
After high school, Gerhard joined the football team at Jacksonville State University under longtime coach Jack Crowe. After two years, he decided to leave football and concentrate on his major, Communications. That decision opened the door to his journey in sports media. As a student, he juggled school with his work at the local independent television station, WJXS-24 (now WEAC).
“I was learning to be a multimedia journalist, operating the cameras in the studio and at sporting events and running the audio in the booth.” In his junior year of college, “The station’s General Manager, Mickey Shadrix, offered me a job as a sports reporter throughout the week and sports anchor on weekends, and I reported on a few stories each week depending on my class schedule. I consider myself very blessed to have had those reps so early. I knew immediately it was what I wanted to do for a living.”
Gerhard graduated from college in December 2007 just as a full-time position opened up at the station's sports department, so he stayed with WJXS and worked as a reporter and the morning sports anchor. From there, he migrated to the evening sports anchor position and then became the Sports Director.
He stayed at the station for 14 years. Since the station was independent, it allowed Gerhard to venture into other aspects of sports including calling live games. He broadcasted college football and basketball games for ESPN+ and was an analyst on the AHSAA Game of the Week in football. He was also on the mic for multiple Alabama high school football and basketball state championship games (including Vigor’s 2021 Class 5A title win over Oneonta).
In 2022, there was a management change, and Gerhard began looking for something new and a change of scenery. He co-hosted an afternoon radio show for Fox Sports in Northeast Alabama (Gadsden) for six months. “I enjoyed radio, but I missed the visual component and creativity of television.” When he saw a sports reporter position at WKRG in Mobile, he eagerly applied.
He knew Simone Eli from her time in the Birmingham sports market. Her husband, Bart Sessions, is a high school coach, and they became friends while covering local sports between Birmingham and the East Alabama markets. Simone is now the Sports Director at WKRG, and she saw Gerhard’s resume and called him to gauge his interest. “My interest was very high,” he says.
“I heard from a few other stations, but it was important to me to be in a place that embraced sports and had rich traditions. A lot of athletes I covered in northeast Alabama continued their careers on the Gulf Coast, so I knew the quality of the sports scene was high in this market. It was a similar sports world to which I had been used to.” After 14 years in Jacksonville, Gerhard began working as a sports reporter/weekend anchor at WKRG in March 2023.
“I was excited about moving to Mobile. There are similarities in how this area relates to high school and college sports as they do in East Alabama. I see a lot of pride in the schools and communities that made the move seamless.” He goes on, “It was hard to leave the close-knit relationships both personally and professionally. It is different, but not a culture shock. The things I enjoy about sports are valued here.”
What stands out? I ask. “People’s commitment to sports here. You can see which communities have that in both Mobile and Baldwin Counties. It’s the talent that stands out immediately. It’s probably the most talent-rich place I’ve ever seen, and the coaching here is great.” He’s looking forward to covering the Blue Wahoos and the Ice Flyers in Pensacola. Gerhard’s brother Daniel lives in Pensacola, so that’s a plus as well.
Gerhard has covered a lot of championship games between East Alabama and South Alabama schools. He called Vigor’s AHSAA football Class 5A State Championship victory in 2021 over Oneonta. “That was one of the most dominating performances in a title game I’ve seen”, he said of the Wolves' 52-14 win. “Vigor has a strong history and won it all in 1987, 1988, 2008, and then again in 2021.” We discussed UMS’s incredible run under Coach Terry Curtis, who was recently named National Coach of the Year.
I asked if he had met Philip Rivers, Head Football Coach at St. Michaels in Fairhope. “Awesome guy. If I were a complete stranger to the game and knew nothing about him, I would have never known he was a storied NFL quarterback superstar and national sports celebrity. He carries himself as a coach, not a former NFL star, which probably comes from his dad.”
We also talked about other sports figures in Mobile. On Robert Brazile, known as “Dr. Doom,” a former Hall of Fame linebacker for the Houston Oilers who hails from Mobile. “He’s a terrific guy, super high energy with a deep passion for football in his hometown,” says Gerhard. “Jim Nagy, the Executive Director of the Senior Bowl, has an incredible football mind and is a great talent evaluator.”
Gerhard, a self-proclaimed “very competitive guy,” enjoys working out whenever he can get to the gym, “typically at night.” He enjoys anything competitive from throwing darts to horseshoes, cornhole and became interested in beach volleyball with his college friends a few years ago. One of his best friends from childhood is Adam Mathis, with whom he played football at Homewood, and is also former NFL All-Pro Bob Baumhauer’s nephew.
Adam’s older brother, Evan Mathis, also a close friend, was a star offensive line at Homewood in football and was a wrestler before a great career on the gridiron at the University of Alabama. He went on to become a productive NFL offensive lineman and enjoyed a 12-year career highlighted by two pro-bowls, an All-Pro nod, and a Super Bowl title with the Denver Broncos.
I asked him about his basketball skills since he played at Homewood. “I played forward in ninth grade, but football was always my main thing. In basketball, I was a big body and five fouls,” he joked. “But now that I cover hoops in-depth, I can appreciate the little things a lot more,” he said. “I like what Nate Oats is doing at Alabama. It’s all about pace and spacing on offense, but if you don’t play defense, you will be watching like everyone else.”
The discussion leads to how the transition to Mobile has been. “Mobile has the vibe of a small town community with all the amenities of a large city. The whole area has been great to me. I’m still learning how the different communities interact and how that translates to how their sports teams operate. It’s interesting to observe how the different ‘ecosystems’ breathe, and I love the challenges of telling the stories of how each sports community serves its sports the best.”
He goes on to say, “WKRG has been awesome to me. It’s been very welcoming and supportive. This station is a much larger operation than I was accustomed to and that has been fun and very interesting to explore so far. We have a great team here.”
Gerhard enjoys learning about the financial markets and has an interest in the future of cryptocurrency. He loves to travel and plans to tour every Major League Baseball park. He says he enjoys live music in smaller venues. “I’m not a big concertgoer, but my music range is a mile wide.”
I enjoyed my visit with Gerhard and look forward to watching his reporting as the football season unfolds. Welcome to the Scenic 98 Coastal community, Gerhard. We are glad you are here!