‘I felt like Santa Claus’: Jazz announcer describes feelings during scholarship giveaway

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – The Utah Jazz made national headlines earlier this week when the team posted an emotional video of local high schoolers receiving life-changing news that they had won a full-ride scholarship.

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Turns out, it might have been just as impactful and fulfilling for those who passed on the news as it was for those who received it.

“I wanted to continue all night, I felt like Santa Claus,” Jazz television announcer Craig Bolerjack tells ABC4. “I went through I believe seven or 10. And just for me, it was such a feel-good moment.”

Among the winners that Bolerjack called was 17-year-old Angel Solis, a senior at Ben Lomond High School. To Solis, who was working at his after-school job at Walmart when the call came on April 23, it was an unexpected and thrilling moment for him and his whole family.

“I was dumbfounded,” Solis recalls. “He called me, he’s like, ‘Hey, we just wanted to let you know, you were one of the few that was selected for the scholarship’. I was just freaking out and then I told my mom and we freaked out together.”

When he told his mother, she was so amazed even a bit of profanity came out during her exclamation of joy.

“She didn’t believe me at first. She was like ‘Are you effing kidding me? Stop playing with me,’” Solis remembers with a laugh. “I was like, ‘No I’m serious. I got it.’”

Tears followed.

Like he is before calling each Jazz game on the air, Bolerjack was prepared with stats and stories before making each life-changing phone call last month. To him, catching the winners by surprise by rattling off their schooling statistics and career ambitions was especially entertaining during the process.

“I think he was a little surprised I knew so much,” Bolerjack says. That was fun for me to say ‘Hey, congratulations, this is what you do, what your GPA is, what your hopes and dreams are, and the Jazz are here to make sure that those dreams come true.”

The Utah Jazz scholarship program was designed by the team’s new owner, Ryan Smith, as a way to be “actively anti-racist,” in the community and give kids from underrepresented backgrounds a chance at an education they might not otherwise have. For each Jazz win this season, a full-ride scholarship to one of six Utah universities would be made available to a deserving local high schooler.

The applications were judged by 10,000 Degrees, a nonprofit company located in San Rafael, California and after considering hundreds of applications, 30 scholarships were awarded, with the rest of the over 50 that the team had earned to be given for the 2022 school year.

Solis guesses he was chosen not only because of his academic achievements but also for sharing his family’s story.

Born in Ogden, Solis’ father was out of the picture early in his life. When he was born, his mother, Irasema Estrada, was living in a cramped two-bedroom house with eight other people. When the two of them moved into a place of their own while he was still an infant, his mother would sleep with her back pressed against the front door after putting Solis to bed because she was unable to afford to put a lock on the entrance.

Little by little, things got better for the family until this last year when Estrada was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. However, Solis credits his mother’s determination as the reason they overcame their early struggles and continue to preserve.

“She hustled and continued hustling, and we’re where are we right now,” he explains. “In her words, we don’t have to depend on having a father figure and all that kind of stuff.”

Still, on a single-parent income, getting Solis through college, a priority for his mother, was going to be a challenge. Now, thanks to the Jazz, getting a higher education will be a reality for the youngster.

“Now she doesn’t have to work any overtime for my college at all, it’s a huge relief,” says Solis.

To the deliverers of the life-changing news, it was an incredibly emotional experience to see Solis’ and the other winners’ faces of joy on a video call. It may have been life-changing for Bolerjack as well.

“I’ll be honest, over the phone, he motivated me,” Bolerjack remembers. “I called him to give him the good news but he made me feel good. He motivated me with his energy of thanks and joy, and I loved it.”

Bolerjack, known for his powerful, booming voice and the catchphrase, “Buckle Up!” hopes that he can have Solis in the broadcast booth with him sometime in the future.

As for Solis, he says he’s now a Jazz fan for life. He hopes that Utah, led by his favorite player, Donovan Mitchell, continues to win and give away scholarships as the NBA Playoffs begin this weekend.

“I really think they’re gonna pull through and get this dub,” Solis predicts. “I think they’re gonna win the championship.”

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