Sportscasting was an art for Ken Kennedy. He needed only a microphone to make sweeping brushstrokes.
“Ken would often listen to recordings of his (radio) broadcasts to learn how he could improve. For him, it was a craft,” said La Grande High School Football Coach Rich
McIlmoil, who is also an art teacher at La Grande Middle School.
The smooth, enthusiasm-filled voice Kennedy used for years to paint exciting word pictures for Grande Ronde Valley sports fans fell silent Sunday. Kennedy, 50, died at a care center in Vale.
Kennedy, who was inducted into the La Grande Tiger Booster Hall of Fame 1-1/2 years ago, broadcast La Grande High School football and basketball games and Eastern Oregon University football games from 1997 until 2017 before he was sidelined by health issues, which included a heart problem.
Kennedy called hundreds of LHS and EOU games, but for many he is best remembered for the seemingly countless young people whose lives he touched while coaching
La Grande Middle School and Optimist football and broadcasting LHS athletic events.
“He did so much for the community. He was genuine. He
really did care about the kids,” said La Grande Middle School social studies teacher Klel Carson, who coached LMS football with Kennedy.
Patty O’Reilly, a secretary at LHS, saw this firsthand 15 years ago when her oldest son, Denny, was playing football for the Tigers. O’Reilly was worried about the direction in which her son was going until Kennedy took him under his wing. Kennedy helped redirect the course of the young man’s life with friendly but persistent guidance.
“He was always checking on him,” O’Reilly said.
A bond was formed that did not fade with time. For years after graduating from LHS in 2004, Denny O’Reilly, who has been in the U.S. Coast Guard for 11 years, would meet with Kennedy every time he returned to La Grande. Patty O’Reilly said many parents have similar stories to share about the connections Kennedy made with their children.
“He kept in touch,” she said. “He really got to know the kids.”
Carson, who is also the LHS wrestling coach, said Kennedy was always eager to do anything to help La Grande schools and the community.
“It was pretty cool. He was a good guy,” Carson said.
Scott Carpenter, the La Grande School District’s director of educational programs and formerly LHS’s assistant principal, said Kennedy was not one to seek the spotlight.
“It wasn’t about his personality. His focus was on the kids,” Carpenter said.
Kennedy had an even keel, but he could get excited.
“He was fiery (and) he liked competition. He could give a (impassioned) pep talk,” McIlmoil said.
The LHS football coach also said Kennedy was enormously popular.
“My players loved him,” he said. “He was very personable.”
Kennedy was so committed to helping LHS that he kept offensive statistics for the football team during games. After games, he would often listen to recordings of his broadcast to double-check his notes.
McIlmoil said Kennedy was an avid outdoorsman who often accompanied him on hunting trips. His interest in hunting, however, did not overshadow his passion for his job and the community.
“His job was his life. He loved to work on the radio,” McIlmoil said.
Matt Wolcott, an assistant La Grande High School football coach and an LHS health and physical education teacher, said he believes Kennedy often traveled to LHS road games without being fully paid for his time or expenses just because of his commitment to the community.
“He did this to allow the community to be a part of away games, to have the opportunity to listen and cheer,” Wolcott said.
Kennedy often traveled to the away games on the team bus.
“The (LHS) players thought of him as one of the coaches because he was around so much,” said Mark Shelden, of Union, who served as a game analyst for Kennedy in the broadcast booth for many LHS and EOU football games.
Kennedy and Shelden had some unforgettable moments on the road, including a basketball game in Baker City in which the mascots of the BHS Bulldogs and LHS Tigers got into a fight. Shelden tried to break it up but got punched by the BHS mascot in the process (he wasn’t injured). Shelden credits Kennedy with giving a noteworthy account of the incident on the radio as it was happening. He said this was an example of how Kennedy could easily jump from one subject to another.
“He could change gears quickly,” Shelden said.
Kennedy was considering changing careers and becoming a history teacher before his health began to fail.
“He would have been wonderful (as a teacher). He loved kids and had a great rapport with them,” Shelden said.
Kennedy was a 1987 graduate of Malad High School in Malad, Idaho, and a 1997 Eastern Oregon University graduate. He worked for KCMB and KVBL radio, for which he also was a newscaster. He also called LHS games for La Grande Alive TV during the 2018 football season.
Kennedy was broadcasting EOU football games when Tim Camp became the Mountaineers’ head football coach in 2007. Camp said the assistance Kennedy provided by publicizing the football program helped elevate it to its present status — a team that is often nationally ranked and a frequent contender for the Frontier Conference title.
“We probably would not be where we are today without his help,” Camp said.
Kennedy was not able to travel with the Mountaineers and broadcast their postseason games in 2016 after they made the NAIA playoffs and advanced to the semifinal round during the best season in school history. Camp said it would have been very meaningful if Kennedy had broadcast their postseason games that year.
“That would have been super special for us,” the EOU coach said.
A memorial service for Kennedy will be held at 10 a.m. April 13 at the La Grande Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Online condolences may be made to the family at www.lovelandfuneralchapel.com.