Caledonia — Hours before ringing in 2022, Caledonia High School alum Amer Bektaš sat in the announcers booth, calling the Orange Bowl playoff football game in Miami, Florida for the University of Michigan student radio program, WCBN Sports.
His broadcast broke the record for all-time listenership at U of M, with more than 80,000 people tuning in.
Behind this first-generation college student completing his bachelor’s of Science in Information degree are his parents – both refugees who came to the United States during the Bosnian War in the 1990s.
Mirsad and Almedina Bektaš spoke no English then, and were among some 37,000 refugees from Bosnia and asylum-seekers who obtained legal permanent resident status between 1992 and 2000, according to U.S. Census data estimates.
‘My teachers and classes at Caledonia were great, because they planted a seed for my passion in sports media and business. … I took journalism and business classes at CHS. Both classes created an environment that resembles what it is like in the industry.’— Amer Bektaš, Caledonia High School graduate
Amer and his two younger brothers, Anel and Armin, were born and raised in Caledonia.
“Growing up in Caledonia, you could count on one hand how many Bosnians went to my schools,” Amer said. He recalled making friends with students who went to Kentwood and Forest Hills districts.
“We stay connected through the Bosnian Cultural Center and our mosque to where we can go and be together,” Amer said.
A 2016 survey titled “New Americans in Kent County” identified Bosnia as one of the top five countries of origin in the area, including Mexico, Guatemala, Vietnam and Canada.
Amer’s father, Mirsad, is also very involved in Grand Rapids’ Bosnian community.
“My dad is very Bosnian,” Amer said. “He’s committed to not forgetting where we came from and keeping the roots of our community tightknit.”
Goals Throughout K-12
A varsity soccer player at Caledonia High School, Amer refers to sports as his “first love.”
“Having European blood, my brothers and I played soccer growing up and would always have a ball in the house,” he recalled. “We were either playing or watching sports, and my parents noticed I would say what the commentator said before they said it.”
Amer’s parents, whom he collectively called “the rock of the family,” never missed one of his games.
“We spent a lot of time driving them around for sports practices, and when Amer played soccer,” Mirsad Bektaš said.
Amer attended Caledonia schools from kindergarten until he graduated in 2016.
“Every day my teachers would push me to be better than what I was the prior day. Their main priority was to help me learn and not just memorization and regurgitation.”
Follow sportscaster Amer on Twitter @AmerBektaš
Mike Wilson, Amer’s STEM teacher from Duncan Lake Middle School, said he was a “great student” who took all the audio and video classes they offered.
“What stood out to me about (Amer) was he wanted to learn all aspects of production. He wasn’t content to simply be in front of the camera, but also enjoyed the behind-the-scenes tasks as well,” Wilson said. “He was incredible in paying attention to detail, and it comes as no surprise that he is earning success in broadcasting.”
Said Amer, “My teachers and classes at Caledonia were great, because they planted a seed for my passion in sports media and business. I always knew I wanted to do something in sports, so I took journalism and business classes at CHS. Both classes created an environment that resembles what it is like in the industry.”
Open Doors to Destiny
Grand Rapids Community College served as the bridge for Amer to knock out introductory level classes and gain two years’ experience as a first-generation college student.
“The only person who graduated from college in my family was my uncle,” Amer said. “I’ll be the first in my household.”
Amer credits GRCC for “opening a lot of doors,” he said, and helping him transfer to the University of Michigan. An adviser in the TRIO program encouraged him to apply to bigger schools, even though “I thought my grades weren’t good enough,” he recalled.
TRIO Student Support Services is a set of federally funded programs that supports first-generation, low-income students and students with disabilities throughout their college experience.
“I grew up a Wolverine sports fan, so going there for school was always in the back of my mind,” Amer said. “I toured a few campuses, but U of M fit and I wanted to be here.”
Once on campus, getting involved with media and broadcast journalism was “a kind of destiny thing,” Amer said.
“The biggest reason I came to U of M was its analytics program through the School of Information and getting involved with sports analytics. One day while walking through the diag, I saw a table for a broadcasting club, gave them my information and my life took off from there.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic shifted college classes online, Amer took a gap year to gain broadcasting experience at home in Grand Rapids, with plans to move back to campus when in-person classes resumed.
“During my year off, I reached out to WOOD-TV’s sports reporter Jack Doles and asked if I could shadow or help out,” he said. “At the time, high-school sports were on pause, so when they came back I sent him an email that day and he added me to the Football Frenzy crew to cover Friday night high-school football games.”
Strong Familial Bonds
The Bektaš family relies on their strong family bond and technology to stay connected daily while Amer is back living on the other side of the state.
During their son’s radio broadcast on New Year’s Eve, the Bektaš family “muted all the commentators” on TV and just listened to Amer.
“His hard work has paid off. He could end up anywhere around sports,” Mirsad Bektaš said. “I hope he’s going to accomplish more of what he’s already doing and keep doing what he loves to do. We realized we did something good and we have pride in the direction he’s going.”
After he graduates in the spring, Amer plans to continue pursuing his passion for sports with an open mind and admiration for his Bosnian heritage.
“My dad tells me to go with the flow with everything and be open to all my options,” he said. “In the Bosnian community, hard work goes a long way. If you go to school just to get a degree, you won’t go very far. I’ve seen my community start their own businesses with little to no experience at all, and not fearing failure because they had nothing to lose.”
Amer’s family paid homage to their Bosnian roots in 2018 with a visit to his parents’ hometowns, their first home since immigrating more than 20 years ago.
“Going to Bosnia for the first time was one of my favorite trips,” Amer said. “My parents wanted to wait until me and my younger brothers were older, but there was also the fear of going back to a place where you were being hunted by your neighbors.”
Before their plane landed in Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital, Amer recalled feeling surprised seeing his dad become emotional.
“My dad never cries, but when he gathered himself, he said, ‘Twenty years ago they chased me out of here, tried to kill me, but now, I’m coming back with an army of my own: my wife and three kids, stronger than ever.’”
Before his love for sports, Amer said, comes his love for family and the desire to make his parents proud.
“Making my family proud is one of my life goals. I go to school and everything that I do is to complete my family’s American dream of being successful here.”