By Lori Gottula
Randy Gottula of Falls City was a fairly decent athlete when he was in high school in Elk Creek, NE. His sports were basketball, football, and track. When he got to college at Peru State College, though, he never shot a basket, caught a pass, or won a two-mile race. Yet, on Friday and Saturday, September 22nd and 23rd, he will be inducted into the Peru State College Athletic Hall of Fame. His name will be forever linked with some of the best athletes who ever graced a field or court at PSC.
How can that be if he never played any sports there?
Randy was nominated and selected for his broadcasting skills. He helped to build the athletic programs at PSC in the 70s and 80s by calling play-by-play for football and basketball. For 17 years, he was the “voice of the Bobcats.”
Jerry Joy of Stella, the person who nominated Randy recently said, “Randy was and still is the best play-by-play man I’ve ever heard, bar none.”
Jerry was the head football coach at Peru in the late 70’s and early 80’s, then was athletic director and dean of students until 1991.
“Randy was instrumental in my success at Peru State,” Jerry said. “He helped build all of the programs by generating excitement through his voice, and he and (then communications director), Kent Propst, helped to spread the word about all of the PSC teams.” As a result, Randy will be inducted into the Hall of Fame during a private ceremony Friday the 22nd, but will be publicly recognized the next day, during half-time of PSC’s home football game against MidAmerica Nazarene University. The game starts at 1:00 p.m. in Peru’s amazing new Oak Bowl. (If any local students and parents plan to attend, Randy’s family encourages them to wear their own school’s colors.)
Randy, who is starting his 45th year as a play-by-play announcer, graduated from Elk Creek High School in 1969, and began his college studies at Peru State that fall. He majored in physical science, and planned to become a high school math and science teacher. But life intervened. He got married and had a little boy, so he needed to find full-time work to support his family. He was already working part-time at an Auburn grocery store, so when his boss, Elvin Shew, offered him a full-time job, Randy left school and became a full-time meat cutter. He got the time off work to watch his younger brother, Scotty, play high school ball by doing PA work on the public address system for Elk Creek High School. That led to the same volunteer job at Auburn High. As a result of his PA work, the sports reporter at KNCY in Nebraska City, Warren Copenhaver (“Old Cope”) offered him a position as color commentator on his sports broadcasts. Randy’s second career was born. He did his first solo game in 1973 when Don Morehead, the manager of Falls City’s KTNC radio station, called him at noon on a Friday to fill in for an ill announcer that night at the Craig-Fairfax football game in Craig, Missouri. Morehead had apparently heard Randy working with Old Cope, and believed in his ability. Randy said yes
“I had a great time doing that first ballgame,” Randy said, during a recent interview. “I was the only person in the broadcast booth, so I knew it was just me and a telephone line. I thought it was a fun way to spend a Friday night. Plus, I made 20 bucks! That was a lot of money back then!” He had no idea at that time where his voice would lead him. But over the next two decades, he did PA work for football, baseball, volleyball, basketball, swim meets, and even rodeos. That’s right. Rodeos. He filled in for an announcer at a rodeo in Auburn, and the producer was so impressed with his voice and entertaining abilities that he hired Randy on the spot to travel on the local rodeo circuit.
However, it was play-by-play that kept drawing Randy’s attention. He continued to do color commentary on KNCY on Friday nights. Then, in the fall of 1976, Jerry Joy approached him about doing color for Peru State’s football games on KTNC. Sports director Gary Isacson was already on-board to do play-by-play. “I was divorced by that time and had two kids,” Randy said, “so as long as Mr. Shew was willing to let me off work on Saturday afternoons, I thought it would be a great way to make some money and meet new people.”
The following year, Isacson left the station, and Randy became the play-by-play man. Every Saturday afternoon in the fall, he called a Peru State football game at the Oak Bowl in Peru, or at a small college somewhere in the Midwest. In the winter, he did the same for basketball. “There was no travel budget back then,” Randy said, “So I either rode on the team bus, or in the equipment van. Sometimes, I had to sit on shoulder pads and footballs, but I got to the games! And when both of those vehicles were full, I was ‘forced’ to ride with the cheerleaders.” Forced. Yeah, right.
“I wasn’t making any money at it because of the travel costs,” Randy said, “But in 1981, Jerry Joy put together a phenomenal team that was 9-1-1 on the year, and it was a lot of fun to be part of that.” In 1983, one of his biggest bonuses (according to him) happened because of PSC football. That’s how he met his future wife. Yes, that’s me. My brother, David Kimball, was playing for Peru, and Randy and I were working together at KAUB in Auburn, which at that time was the flagship station for Peru State games. I began traveling with him to watch David, and I continued to travel with him after David graduated. We got married in 1987, shortly after I started working at Peru State. We followed the Bobcats everywhere. And then came the 1990 football season.
“Tom Shea was head football coach by then, and Jerry Joy was the athletic director and dean of students,” Randy said. “Joy and Shea had hired some amazing assistant coaches. Division I, NCAA coaches!” “That season was incredible,” Randy said. The Bobcat team was stacked with amazing football talent, and went undefeated. In the post-season, they qualified for the NAIA division II national championship game against Westminster College, of Pennsylvania. The game was played at UNO’s Caniglia Field in Omaha. “That game was probably my most memorable football game in all of the years that I did play-by-play,” Randy said. “When Adrian Witty intercepted a pass to seal the game for PSC, my broadcast partner, Jerry Joy, said, ‘We’re in, Randy.’ I looked over at him and saw a tear running down his cheek. It was probably the only time in my broadcast career that I had a difficult time completing the call.” That was just one of the many memorable moments, but there were some fun ones as well, like the 1990 homecoming game when the administrative assistant to the president hired a team of parachutists to bring in the game ball. “They didn’t show up,” Randy said, “So we had to start the game!” Mid-way through the second quarter, the visiting team was driving down the field, and was threatening to score. Suddenly, the crowd heard the buzz of a small airplane, and everyone began looking overhead. “Jerry and I looked up, and saw three guys in parachutes falling out of the sky,” Randy said. “The plane had arrived late. The refs stopped the game, parted the players, and the parachutists floated toward the field, one of them carrying the game ball. Tom Shea pointed toward the roof of the press box, where the administrative assistant was standing, yelling at the parachutists, “Go back up! Go back up!’” “We ended up winning the game, and the coach attributed part of the win to my wife’s defensive play in the second quarter.” (Yep, I was that administrative assistant. I’m a hoot, aren’t I?)
Randy also had some memorable moments calling basketball at PSC. “My favorite memory was during the 1993 national tournament,” he said. “I was no longer the ‘voice of the Bobcats’ because my family and I had purchased the grocery store in Falls City at that point, and we were living and working here. However, I signed on to call play-by-play of the NAIA division II national championships. I traveled to Nampa, Idaho, with coach John Gibbs and the team, a team that included my son, Todd. Watching Todd play at the collegiate level was a thrill for me, but after their game, something happened that made the event even more memorable. Todd had scored in double figures, and when the game was over, he went directly from the basketball court to the media room, still in his uniform. He was working for the Auburn newspaper, and had a deadline for his story about the game. That is something I will never forget.”
Todd’s team was inducted into the Peru State College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. “When I think that my name will be alongside Todd’s in the Hall of Fame, it means the world to me,” Randy said. He is also humbled that he will be inducted into a group that includes athletes like Falls City’s Douglas (Hoot) Gibson and Louie Fritz (a former cross country runner at PSC), All-American Alvin Holder, quarterback Nate Bradley, and defensive back Cornelius Riley. “Cornelius was and is the hardest-hitting football player I have ever seen on any team at any level,” Randy said.
Randy’s name will also be linked with coaches like Al Wheeler, Dr. Wayne Davidson, Tom Shea, John Gibbs, and Jerry Joy. “I have such deep respect for all of the former athletes and coaches at Peru State,” Randy said. “To sit beside them in the Hall of Fame is a privilege, especially since I wasn’t even an athlete there.” The thing that he doesn’t realize is that there’s much more to being selected for the Hall of Fame than being a former outstanding coach or athlete. The Hall of Fame committee selects men and women who have gone out into the world and made their marks—people who have made the world a better place. And if that is one of the requirements, then no one has earned a place in the Peru State College Hall of Fame more than Randy Gottula has.
He has been a loving spouse, and giving father and grandfather to his three kids and five grandkids. Over a 25-year period, he committed his business acumen to the Falls City community, where he also employed hundreds of students. He worked with their schedules, and taught them about the “real world” of business.
For more than 50 years, he has taken pictures of local athletes, and has given them away, even when he had to pay for pictures that came out black (back in the ‘olden days’ when we had to use film!) Even though he questions his worthiness, his family and I believe that this is an honor he deserves. So, if you plan to come to the game, cheer loudly at half-time, because Randy won’t be talking this time, he’ll be listening; listening for his name to be called as the newest inductee into the Peru State College Athletic Hall of Fame.