Editor’s note: This story first appeared in the June 22 print edition of The Times-Sentinel. Subscribe to see more of these stories and see them sooner; call 316-540-0500.
By Sam Jack
GODDARD – Jim Lester, the public-address voice of Goddard sports for more than 30 years, retired from announcing, and teaching, at the end of the 2016-17 school year.
As an announcer, he didn’t have a signature phrase or gimmick – but people got to know his voice, and he got to follow the sports careers of his former sixth-grade students. That made announcing an enjoyable job and kept him at the microphone year after year.
His top priority was always to support an environment of good sportsmanship, he said.
“Yes, I’m rooting my socks off for Goddard, or for Eisenhower, but I’m the public address announcer, not the cheerleader,” he said. “One of the biggest compliments for me is when somebody tells me, ‘I love the way you announce, because it’s not biased.’
“Now, sometimes in basketball, I can’t help it,” he added. “If it’s a real close game and Matt Pile has a dunk, or one of the guys hits a three, I just can’t help it. Most of the time I try to be even keel.”
Lester started announcing basketball in 1983. He added football the following season, and baseball several years later. He also spent several years as Goddard High School’s varsity baseball coach, and served stints as junior varsity volleyball coach at both Goddard High School and Eisenhower High School.
Asked about memorable games or seasons during his coaching and announcing career, he said he enjoyed the Goddard High football seasons when Logan Watkins was quarterback, and marveled at the feats of future pros and college players.
“But it’s not so much about memorable games, or anything like that,” he said. “It’s just kids. Watching the kids play is the best thing for me. … It’s been loads of fun for me to watch the sixth-graders grow up.”
Basketball and baseball are relatively straightforward for a PA announcer, Lester said, but keeping track of players and plays during a football game is not a one-man job. Several people have assisted Lester as “spotter” over the years.
“We had these big pieces of paper – I actually have one in my trunk, because I wanted to keep one,” Lester said. “One’s for Goddard and one for the visiting team. The spotter – the last few years, Chris Reagan – watches the defense and points out who’s making the tackle. I’m watching the offense, who carried the ball, and I just make up a sentence. With the speed-up offense that a lot of them are doing now, my sentences have to be a little bit faster.”
Lester was just as passionate about classroom teaching. Before the schools split, most Goddard students had him for sixth-grade science, and he retired from Challenger Intermediate.
“I wanted the kids to want to come in my room,” he said. “If they want to come to class, my job’s two-thirds done.”
To keep kids engaged, he tried to do something different every day. The change could be a different sort of lesson, or it could be something simpler.
“One time I had the kids turn their chairs around, so they were straddling the chairs,” he said. “Why are we having to sit like this? ‘Don’t worry about it.’ I just scrambled their eggs, and they were great for two weeks.”
Storytelling was another big part of his teaching style.
“Everybody likes a good story. You can get everybody’s attention with three words: ‘Once upon a time,’ or ‘I remember when,’” he said.
From 1993 to 2015, Lester directed space camps at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson. Many students from Goddard participated in those “Future Astronaut Training Programs,” taking part in simulated shuttle missions.
“We have three Goddard students working at NASA right now,” Lester said. “That is pretty cool.”
Now that they are both retired, Lester and his wife, Norma, are moving to the Charlotte, S.C., area to be closer to her family.