Passages: Legendary Announcer Sam Kendricks Passes Away: His Voice Will Be Missed

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Sam Kendricks -- Photo Courtesy: Andy Ringgold / Aringo Photos

Legendary Announcer Sam Kendricks Passes Away: His Voice Will Be Missed

Sam Kendricks, one of the main voices on deck at major swim meets in the United States over the last two decades, passed away Wednesday after a nine-month battle with Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Kendricks discovered the cancer in September 2021 and had surgery to remove the mass, but the cancer had metastasized to his torso by December. He spent the last six months undergoing treatment for the disease.

Kendricks was the primary announcer for the NCAA Division I swimming championships over the last decade, and he was one of the primary voices for USA Swimming competitions for more than two decades. He was part of the announcing team at five Olympic Trials (2000, 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016). In addition, he worked as a residential realtor in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Before that, Kendricks was an undergraduate student manager for the University of Texas men’s team under coach Eddie Reese, including the first national-title-winning squad in 1981. He was later an assistant coach for the Texas women under Richard Quick from 1985 to 1987, and then he coached club teams in Arkansas for eight years. After leaving club coaching, he was asked to return to one of his old clubs to announce a meet, and his career in announcing took off from there.

As an announcer, Kendricks developed a signature style that brought excitement to crowds around all corners of the country. He reserved his primary catchphrase, “BOOM-SHAKA-LAKA,” for the most impressive of swims. As an announcer, Kendricks hoped to showcase each swimmer in a way that would make their experience at the meet as positive as possible.

“My goal is really just to highlight and find experiences and memories and spot situations that really accentuate what is great about that swimmer, that relay, that team, whatever it is, and remember that there are people in the stands that this means so much on behalf of that swimmer or diver that you want to give them as much as you can,” Kendricks told Swimming World earlier this year.

Kendricks’ friend Bob Staab posted a message in the Facebook group “BoomshakalakaSam,” which had been used to provide updates on Kendricks during his battle with cancer.

It is with sadness that I let you know our friend Sam Kendricks peacefully passed away today at home in Los Alamos, N.M., at the age of 59 from Merkel Cell Carcinoma with his loving wife Shay at his side. Sam would have turned 60 on July 31.

I have many stories and memories of Sam over the last 35 years that I will never forget and know many of you have known him for much longer and have many as well. I hope that you will take time to share some of those memories with everyone on this page.

Shay would like to thank all of you for the support you have given to Sam and her over these past months and has requested some privacy during this time. Below is a note from Shay.

*******

For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.” ~ Khalil Gibran

It breaks my heart to have to share this news. This morning, my husband, Sam Kendricks, departed this realm of existence for the next. He did not wish to leave us so soon, but his body grew weary.

Sam was lighthearted and fun unless the situation required seriousness. He specifically asked that he not have a traditional funeral.

While I don’t have any plans for a service yet, I will be organizing a celebration of life service for later this summer in Los Alamos and again in Austin at the University of Texas in the fall.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the J. Robert Oppenheimer House Fund of the Los Alamos Historical Society: https://losalamoshistory.networkforgood.com/projects/107843-oppenheimer-house-preservation. The donations support the work of conserving the Oppenheimer home for future generations. Sam was passionate about the home and the history it holds.

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Andrew Korda
5 months ago

My heart hurts hearing this news. Sam was always so nice to me and my swimmers. He and his voice will be missed. Prayers for his family and friends.
Love you Sam.

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Dana Abbott
5 months ago

Epic loss. Always going the extra mile to recognize the swimmers without the big names and notoriety. More excitement than a sky full of lightning when Sam was announcing. We will all miss our great friend. Prayers for Shay and the family.

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Philip Nenon
5 months ago
Reply to  Dana Abbott

He made our sport better and more exciting, and will be missed. Remarkable talent for putting the same thrill in an early heat with competitive battle as the final heat with World or American record efforts.

Brought joy to so many. Rest In Peace, brother.

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Scott SpannMD
5 months ago

It’s a terrible loss not only for our swimming community but all those that ever came in contact with Sam.
Sam was the team manager in 1981 and brought an entirely heightened level of attentiveness and quality to the position that was very much noted by all. He was dedicated to optimal performance in his capacity and it was clearly evident.
In later years, his unique approach to announcing swimming races completely altered what had traditionally been a very dry, stale and was less than engaging. Not only was he a joy to listen to but he added nuance and detail to the races that created interest and knowledge of the minutia and subtle strategies within the race. He truly was iconoclastic and set a beautiful standard for others to seek.
Moreover, Sam always had a smile and kind word for those in need.
He is and always will be greatly missed!

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Raz
5 months ago
Reply to  Scott SpannMD

Beautifully written

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robert kravutske
5 months ago

I did not know his name but his voice was great!!!!……..I have made over 20 mens ncaa meets…..best 3 days of the year…..R I P…….my swimming friend….

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Swim official
5 months ago

I will forever hear my son’s name in Sam’s voice. His was and always will be the voice of USA swimming. Rest In Peace Sam.