He’s the man in the middle for the Chicago Bulls, holding court, watching intently, making snap decisions to keep every game flowing smoothly. No, he’s not Joakim Noah or Omer Asik — heck, he’s not much over 6-feet tall or even wearing a Bulls uniform — but longtime Oak Parker Jeff Wohlschlaeger is the man in the middle of it all on game night at the United Center. 

You’re on the couch and your neighbor, the director of game operations for the Bulls, is sitting right in front of you — and we don’t blame you for not noticing, for Derrick Rose just popped a three. Wohlschlaeger (sounds like Jeff) occupies a seat at the scorer’s table near mid-court — he’s the one in the dapper suit, usually looking down at a script, headset on, sitting next to or near the ever affable Sports Broadcaster Stacey King.

Jeff’s been there for 18 years now, which means he’s seen the best of times (three Bulls NBA titles thus far, all led by someone named Michael Jordan) and the worst of times (that dreadfully awful 15-67 season in 2001 when Metta World Peace, formally known as Ron Artest, was a Bull). 

Jeff is a reserved, mindful and structured … party animal. It’s true. He’s the official host of 20,000-plus guests and his job is keeping those guests entertained before, during and after Bulls games. The in-game broadcasts on the jumbotron, the bass-pumping music, the entertaining timeout and halftime shows, and even Bennie the Bull’s unpredictable escapades all go through Jeff.  Not only that, he’s the go-to guy when something goes awry during a game. If the shot clock burns out, it’s Jeff the referees scowl at.  

He’s constantly monitoring the mood of the crowd in order to gage his next move. Demure? Enthusiastic? Cue this, play that. During the game Jeff communicates with an assortment of behind-the-scenes personnel, including the public address announcer, stage managers and scoreboard operators.      

“It’s fast and furious but a lot of fun and it constantly changes,” says the 1986 OPRF High School graduate who went on to earn a degree in broadcast journalism at the University of Illinois. “The position has changed and morphed into something much more over the last 15 years.”

He’s responsible for such acts as the beautiful and talented Luvabulls and the plump and floppy Chicago Matadors (Google them, you’ll see what I mean). Other acts Jeff has found to be crowd pleasers include Quick Change, the Bucket Boys, The Stampede, Red Panda and the always endurable Bulls Brothers and IncrediBulls. He hired about six new acts for various games this season alone. But, over the years, not all have been hits.           

One of the worst acts he approved for a halftime entertainment show years ago was a group called the Quiddlers, “full-size humans in costumes that make them look like midgets.”

“They did a dance routine and it just bombed,” he remembers woefully. “It was brutal.”

Jeff arrived in Oak Park in 1982, just a week before beginning his freshman year at OPRF. He swam and played water polo under former coach Jim Locke, helping lead the team to several state title games. His father, Dick, was associate minister at First United Church of Oak Park for several years before moving to Pennsylvania.

Jeff made his way back to the village in 2005 where he currently shares a home with wife Kim, daughters Emma, 6, and Allie, 3 months, and son Graham, 3. Not only does Dad work for the Bulls, but Mom is a former Luvabull. 

And yes, on occasion Jeff takes his work home with him. Bennie the Bull has been spotted running up and down the 1000 block of Fair Oaks Avenue. Well, it was Emma’s birthday party.

“That draws the neighbors out — a big red bull running up and down Fair Oaks,” he muses. “My son, though, he’s frightened of Bennie.” 

So maybe you’re wondering if there are more perks involved with such a high-profile position with one of the NBA’s most popular teams? It all depends, do you get to spend your lunch break playing a pick-up game with Bulls legend Scottie Pippen at the United Center?

Being schooled by Pippen before wolfing down a sandwich isn’t the only highlight thus far of Jeff’s time with the Bulls. He revels in preparing the special ceremonies. His favorite was an emotional celebration of Johnny Red Kerr’s time with the Bulls in 2009.

“It was special putting that one together because I truly revered the man. He was such a great person not only to work with but on a personal level. It was a great honor to be in charge of that particular ceremony.”

Spectacular plays and thrilling games have unfolded before the man in the middle of it all, but he doesn’t get to jump out of his seat in exhilaration like you and me.

“I catch a glimpse of the action every now and then and follow what’s going on in my own way,” he reveals. “But I wouldn’t say I get to enjoy the game itself. After all, I am working. But you can’t beat the seat.”

bspencer@oakpark.com

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...