Welcome to our 2020 Columbus Blue Jackets Q&A series. In this new series, we are going to talk with different members of the Blue Jackets’ community about hockey, their jobs, how they’re handling things today and much more. In part one, anthem singer Leo Welsh (Leo!) was kind enough to spend some time with us talking about many things including his life today.
If you’ve been to a Columbus Blue Jackets game even once, then you know who Leo Welsh is. It’s right before game time. Anticipation for the game is through the roof. And then Greg Murray announces to the sellout crowd who the military honoree of the game is.
In unison, everyone including the players pay their respects to that veteran who served their country. Then you know what comes next from Murray.
“And to perform O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner, would you please welcome, Mr. Leo Welsh?!”
Then 19,000 fans yell “LEO!”
It is one of the most surreal moments as a Blue Jackets’ fan one can experience. It is the ultimate sign of respect by the fans to Welsh who has now been the anthem singer at Nationwide Arena since 2003. Can you believe it’s been 17 years? Goodness.
But yet with each passing day, Welsh doesn’t lose sight of how grateful he is for the fans who continue showing unwavering support for him.
“I don’t know if I could put that into words,” Welsh said. “It’s genuine. It’s real. I’m honored. I’m just so proud to be there for them. It’s funny you say I’m humble(I admitted to him how humble he was from a distance). I don’t think you would have found 20-year old me very humble. I’m glad maybe I’ve learned something along the way (laughing). It’s an honor and I can’t thank them enough for having my back.”
How It All Began
The fans undoubtedly have Welsh’s back. He is one of the most beloved figures in team history. Those that have been around the team from the beginning know his story and how he got to this point. But in case you’re new, we asked him to recount how things came together for him. One suggestion from his wife was all it took. The rest is history.
“My wife heard about a radio contest and the first 50 people to email in got an on-ice audition with the Blue Jackets to be the anthem singer,” Welsh recalled. “She said you should try this. You should go for it. And I did. I wanted to get down there early. I wanted to be one of the first people they heard on the ice. And I was. I think I was like first or second. Any audition, whoever goes first wins, right? The first voice that they hear that they like they don’t forget. So they chose four people and I was one of them. The Blue Jackets had us go to a recording studio and make a recording of our anthem to put on their website and had people go online and vote. We all did the preseason games that year. So the fans voted and that’s how I got the job.”
Welsh has seen many things in his time at Nationwide Arena. As you well know, the team went through many lean years. Flash forward to 2013. It was the strike shortened season. The Blue Jackets were finally on the verge. That season and the final game of that season was a moment that Welsh vividly remembers.
“The strike shortened season was a fun year. That team was playing really well at the right time. That was a fun night at Nationwide when we beat Nashville. Then we all waited for the Wild game to finish. Everybody hung around to see if we were going to make it or not. And we didn’t, but that was our first real taste of what it could be like. The song that was played after we won was ‘Taking Care of Business.’ I remember vividly. That was a cool choice by the DJ.”
The Blue Jackets did take care of business that season but fell just short thanks to the Wild winning that night. But you just knew that the corner was starting to be turned as a franchise. Welsh knew it. The fans knew it. The team knew it. Look what’s happened since.
Welsh’s Typical Day
We then turned our attention to a typical day for him during the season. What is his day like? What all happens leading up to his moment singing the anthem? Welsh described his day for us.
“I’m like most people. I go to my job all day long,” Welsh said. “Then I come home, get a little something to eat. I don’t have to be at the arena until 6 P.M. I’m inside by 6:30. I walk around if we have a military honoree which we have done a lot more of. I want to meet them, find out where they’re from, meet their family. I check in with the event staff with Jason (Abbadie) or whoever is running the show that day. Then I do some warmups for about 10-15 minutes where I just go back by the zamboni tunnel where they keep the basketball courts stacked up. It’s a spot where nobody else is ever at so I’m not bothering anyone. I make a lot of stupid sounds to help get my voice warmed up. Then about 7:00 with five minutes to go, I walk towards the ice and do my thing.”
But as we all know, the hockey and sports world is on pause due to Covid-19. So of course there are no games to play and no anthems to sing prior to games for now. For Welsh, even more emphasis is put on his regular job especially in these times. ‘I go to my job all day long’ now has extra meaning.
Why Welsh Is A Hero
Welsh works as a nursing home administrator. He works on the front lines every day to not only keep his residents safe but his family safe as well. Welsh has three children, a fifth grader, a second grader and one who will be starting Kindergarten next year. Columbus and the Blue Jackets organization have a hero amongst them in Welsh. Like me and you, he pays very close attention to what is being said by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine.
“People have lots of questions all of a sudden about my job and what’s going on in the nursing home,” Welsh said. “We’re glued to the 2 P.M. press conferences everyday. Those things are very helpful to us. What Governor DeWine has done has helped save a lot of lives.”
The leadership in Ohio has stepped up in a big way to help fight this war against Covid-19. But it’s a war and the virus has changed life as we know it for now. Welsh oversees 200 residents at his nursing home. He feels for them especially since many of them can’t even see their loved ones right now.
“200 people live there (at the nursing home). It’s frustrating for them to not be able to see their loved ones or really go anywhere. I’m frustrated for them. It’s the only safe way that we can be assured that they will not be exposed to Covid-19.”
Welsh & The Military Honorees
Welsh is doing his part and what is asked of him everyday for the betterment of everyone. But he will never forget the true heroes that he has the honor of meeting. Those are the military honorees. We asked him just how special it is for him to get to do that on game days.
“These are real-life heroes standing right next to me. I’ve been honored to have World War II veterans, Vietnam War veterans, Korean War Veterans or current military. They are all fascinating to me, people that would put their lives on the line for us for the American way and our country, maybe they’re doing it for their families or their own reasons but I’m fine with that. A lot of them do it for even more than that. I can’t thank them enough for everything they do for us.”
As you can imagine, Welsh can tell you stories about his experiences over the years. We asked him to share one or two stories that stick out to him over the years. Who remembers the Lima Company taking over the ice? Welsh surely didn’t forget.
“We had the entire Lima company out on the ice. That’s a big pile of people. So they had six carpets wide all the way out to center ice. And these men and women just stacked up all the way out. It was just a huge amount of people on the ice. There’s six across and I walk right up the middle of them. They wanted me to walk up front as though I was the leader. But I’m not. I had to walk up in-between all these members of Lima Company. A couple of them had some encouraging words for me as I’m walking to sing our National Anthem. Couple of them had a couple other things to say like ‘don’t mess it up.’ There were a couple other choice words in there. That’s fine (laughing). But that was a pretty unique experience with all of them there.”
And if you think emotions don’t get involved with this, think again.
“With the playoffs last year, it seemed like every night we had a World War II veteran,” Welsh recalled. “A couple of them needed my left arm for balance. I was happy to give it to them. The ovations those men got from the crowd was tough. It was emotional. It’s hard to sing when you’re emotional. I had to keep my thoughts out of that and focus on what I’m doing. But sometimes you can’t help yourself.”
Welsh’s Words Of Wisdom
That sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning won’t soon be forgotten by anyone involved with the Blue Jackets. From honoring World War II veterans pregame to unleashing a celebration 20 years in the making, that series will go down in history as one of the greatest moments of all time. Hopefully soon, we will be able to meet again at Nationwide Arena to start making new memories. Welsh had one final thing to say for now. And it’s for all of us. If we take heed to his words, we will meet again for hockey soon.
“My grandma Welsh always said ‘This too shall pass.’ It’s always stopped raining before. Counting the people at the nursing home where I work, this is terrible. But the only way to get through it alive is to stay safe and take our time. I’m heartbroken for those that lost their jobs or don’t have childcare if they have to go to work and don’t know what to do. We just pray for them and hope that things turn out ok.”
And that’s just it. It rains and then the sun shines again. We are all in this battle together every one of us. If we do what we’re being told to do, we will make it through and become stronger as a result.
We know him as the anthem singer. But Welsh is much more than that. He’s just like me and you. He is doing what he’s supposed to do both at home and at work to help us all get through this. He’s on the front lines daily doing his part.
So the next time we get the honor to shout ‘LEO’ at a Blue Jackets’ game, let’s remember the hero who sings the anthem to us. Because that’s what Welsh is. For 17 years and counting, Welsh is a hero to all of us. We couldn’t be more thankful for that.