Karl Koontz is well known for his many years of high school sports broadcasting.  As the year came to an end, he reflected back on his career.

Written by Karl Koontz:

Radio in Montana is 100 years old, with KFBB in Great Falls establishing itself as the Treasure State’s first major station. In a modern world dominated by digital media it’s fun to remember how it used to be. Those Montanans who enjoy a passion for high school sports have probably all spent time listening to games on the radio, whether on the road or huddled around a kitchen radio trying to get the old-fashioned dial tuned just right. It’s as seasonal as spring planting, winter calving, football in the fall and basketball in the cold months. Most of us played when it was our turn and continue to follow our local teams, either as alumni or in our adopted hometowns. If you can’t make the game, at least one can get a taste from the airwaves.

I was fortunate to pick up the hobby of radio sportscasting decades ago. It’s provided me the opportunity to continue to relish the games I’ve loved my whole life, football and basketball. These days Townsquare Media and KMON and their commitment to small town sports coverage allow me to continue pursuing my airwaves avocation. Thinking about the years behind the microphone, I remember the broadcast teams of which I’ve been a part, each one bringing smiles and memories back to me. I’ve also seen a lot of great games with my four primary partners over the years.

I cut my teeth in radio sports in 1984 in the Northeast corner of the state at KATQ in Plentywood. The broadcast team included myself and “Wildcat” Bill Stallard. Bill was the Montana sportscaster of the year on a few occasions, mainly due to his over-the-top enthusiasm. Coincidentally, Bill was in the stadium when Jim Ryun ran the first sub-four-minute mile in U.S. high school history at the Kansas State Track and Field Championships in 1965. Montana hoops aficionados probably know about basketball in that part of the world back then. The 1970’s belonged to the 1-C District, with Westby winning state titles in 1972 and 1975, Flaxville grabbing the top spot in 1976 and 1979, and Outlook winning the works in 1978 and 1980. Tiny Antelope finished second to Westby in 1975. Fantastic players like Allan Nielsen and Doug Selvig matriculated to the University of Montana from tiny schools not far from Canada and North Dakota. Medicine Lake won the Class B crown in 1975, Plentywood took the Class A title in 1976 and the Class B chipper in 1978. To cap the decade, Scobey beat Plentywood for the Class B championship in 1979.

That energy carried over into the 1980’s, and the highlight of my two years at KATQ was the District 1-C Tournament. The Plentywood Fieldhouse came alive for the three-day celebration. One of the best games I ever saw was the championship in 1985, when the Outlook Blue Jays and the Medicine Lake Honkers played 32 nearly flawless minutes. There were almost no turnovers and the game hung in the balance until Bryan Krumwiede drilled a 35-footer at the horn for 61-60 Lake win. On the melancholy side, not a single one of the six teams that comprised the 1-C still plays basketball on their own. In fact, the 1-C doesn’t even exist anymore and half of the schools are closed (Peerless, Outlook, and Flaxville). It’s a sign of demographics in Eastern Montana in general and it’s too bad.

In the late 1980’s I was back in Great Falls when I had the chance to team with Gene Black, who really showed me the ropes of sportscasting. Electric City sports fans certainly ought to remember Gene, a GFHS Bison football state champion and a Bobcat through and through. Gene’s approach to broadcasting was unique. For most of the games he called he sold the ads himself, bought time from the radio stations, and owned the broadcast equipment. We called CMR football and basketball, but it was football that stuck out from that partnership. We were lucky enough to broadcast Rustler games through the Dave Dickenson Era, which was like watching Da Vinci or Picasso paint. In addition to those two undefeated campaigns, we watched Ryan Leaf (sometimes the highlight reel on him was basketball as much as football) lead CMR to another title in 1992.

The other great part of those days was our spot in Memorial Stadium, a wonderful facility. The stadium was built in 1930, hosted a J.F.K. speech, and has been the site of numerous state championships in track and field and football. For years Memorial Stadium was the site of the Montana East-West Shrine Game. From the press box, the view across the field of the campus of Great Falls High is cool. There were a few truly inspiring times when a full moon arose over the school.

For a couple years in the early 2000's, my old friend Delbert Darko put together a very fun broadcast package he called “Country Football.” We traveled around central Montana carrying small town eight- and six-man games, sometimes from the back of grain trucks or pickups. Lots of small towns had press boxes, but no phone lines, so Del would unwind his quarter mile long, old-fashioned phone cable to some nearby home and hook up from there. We really were a couple analog guys in an increasingly digital world. This was my first taste of doing on-site sportscasting at the most local level and it’s my favorite. The folks in the small towns are amazing and friendly. They so appreciate us coming to their games and airing their games. It didn’t hurt that Del knew about half the people in every town we visited.

There is no question about the lasting moment from Country Football. In the fall of 2003, we went to Geraldine for the state six-man championship. On a windy day in the shadows of the Highwood Mountains we were treated to a spectacular contest. Custer-Melstone was on fire early and dominated play well into the second half. The Cougars led 64-32 with just a couple minutes to go in the third period (10-minute quarters in six-man) when Geraldine mounted the greatest comeback I’ve ever seen. The Tigers roared back with 40 points in a row in just over ten minutes to take an eight-point lead, 72-64. Custer-Melstone rallied themselves to score and convert the two-point kick with five seconds left and we were headed to overtime. Both teams scored on their first possession of extra play, but Custer-Melstone failed on their conversion and Geraldine made theirs for an 80-78 victory. That game still gives me a warm feeling when I recall it. It was the last game Del and I called a game together and it was a great one to end with.

I took a few years off from the broadcast booth to try my hand at coaching. Coaching a high school team is a wonderful experience, especially if you don’t need to sleep. My current broadcast partner Chris Kelly took her turn in the coach’s box as well and five years ago traded in her clipboard for a headset. Chris has a long history in both radio and sports. She’s had her own radio show over the years and she has an extensive athletic resume. Her GFHS basketball team won 72 games in a row and three state Class AA titles (never mind what years…you can look them for yourself). After a college hoops career at Carroll College, she served as athletic trainer for the Griz and has coached both football and basketball on several occasions.

Chris and I love high school sports, and calling games keeps us involved. We focus on small school football and basketball, in line with the tradition of KMON dating back forever. We call games on the east side of Great Falls while our station-mates Robin McKnight and Randy Bogden cover the action on the other side of Cascade County and into Teton County. The memories just keep piling on as we carry district, divisional, and state games. The next couple months Chris and I get to experience more Class C basketball, with the conference match-ups heating up through January leading to tourney time. We genuinely have fun during the games, usually seeing things eye-to-eye, but sometimes disagreeing on things like fronting the post or playing behind. We work hard to create a professional product for you listeners and hope you enjoy the broadcasts.

A fun thing we’ve done in football is follow a Northern C contender into the playoffs each postseason. A few years back that took us to historic Naranche Stadium in Butte when the GFCC Mustangs made it all the way to the final game. They fell short of the pinnacle, but what a place to watch a football contest. Then we tracked the Fort Benton Longhorns through a couple nice playoff crusades only to have their hopes dashed in the state semifinals. By the way, it was Flint Creek that ended all three of those Northern C seasons. For over a decade now, the road to the eight-man championship goes through Flint Creek. This past fall was memorable as the Belt Huskies broke the curse by beating Flint Creek in the second round of the playoffs on their way to a state championship. We also called a couple Big Sandy games as the Pioneers put together an undefeated championship season in the six-man ranks.

Radio sports in Montana is a tradition that goes back a long way and it’s great to be part of it. Thanks to the sponsors, the station, and the listeners for making that possible. I look forward to building a lot more of memories on the gridiron and hardwood.

Thank you Karl for your many years of great broadcasting!

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