The Golden Voice of the Blue Dragons

Rusty Hilst (center) has been broadcasting Hutchinson Community College athletics for five decades. Photo by Bre Rogers/The Collegian

By Brenna Eller
Collegian Editor In Chief

What started out as a fill-in scorekeeper for a sick broadcaster, turned into a 50-year long career for Blue Dragons’ legendary broadcaster and sports analyst, Rusty Hilst who plans to retire after five decade of radio broadcasting at the end of the season.

“It seems like a good number to end on doesn’t it?” Hilst said. “I’d like to quit while people still say, ‘I remember when he was a good broadcaster’ when referring to me,” Hilst said while laughing.

For Hilst, broadcasting play-by-play of Hutchinson Community College football and women’s and men’s basketball games has been a journey he will never forget. He has also been doing Hutchinson High School games since he started as well. In 2014, Hilst’s work was recognized locally and he was inducted into the Quarterback Club Hall of Fame for his work as a broadcaster.

“I just got thrown into it,” Hilst said, “A high school coach, Dan Justice, who was a friend, suggested me to Fred Phaby when the regular guy got sick and asked if I could fill in for him for a Hutch High game against Derby.”

Thinking he was just there to keep scorebook, Hilst accepted the offer. The game was neck and neck at 8-8 even though Hutchinson was good and Derby wasn’t looking to be, so Hilst said he felt the need to talk through the game, thus starting his radio career.

Apart from broadcasting, Hilst has devoted most of his time to teaching. Hilst has been a calculus teacher at Hutchinson High for 53 years and has no intention of retiring from that anytime soon.

“What I love most is teaching,” Hilst said.

Not only has he taught at the high school, but he was the golf coach for 30 years and worked for the Kansas Golf Association since 1976. He has been to tournaments all over the country.

“I used to do scoreboards, writing on golf scoreboards, from California to Seattle, to New York City, and it got so busy,” Hilst said.

When recalling his favorite moments in broadcasting, Hilst didn’t hesitate to talk about the Blue Dragon men’s basketball team’s three NJCAA titles, the most recent coming in 2017.

“The three national championships have been very special, the most exciting to be a part of was the first because the game was so close and everyone was going crazy,” Hilst said about the 1988 win.

During the 2017 championship season, Hilst recalled a crazy game against rival Butler.

“We were down 26 points vs. Butler and came out winning,” Hilst said. Hilst described the end of the game as an “Awfully big moment.”

Speaking on air for five decades means there have been slip-ups as well.

“When you do basketball broadcasting that doesn’t get over ’til late, you have to quickly learn to keep things to yourself,” Hilst said.

He didn’t give a specific example of himself slipping up, but chuckled at the question as if he had done so a time or two.

“It’s a little bit like social media,” Hilst said, “When you hit send, it’s gone and you can’t take it back.”

Hilst’s first broadcasting partner, Jerry Kershaw, who was with him for the 1988 and 1994 championships, retired in 1995. In 1998, Glen Grunwald became Hilst’s second in command. They have been together for 21 years now. The dynamic duo is referred to as “Glen and Rusty”.

A friend of Hilst’s, HutchCC Business Management and Entrepreneurship instructor Dan Naccarato, shared his best memories with Hilst over the years.

“In 2014, Rusty invited me to join him on KHUT Country 102.9 and KWBW 1450 for football and basketball broadcasts,” Naccarato said, “I ultimately accepted the opportunity because I listened to Rusty call thousands of games, and I always liked and respected him.”

Naccarato said anyone who meets Hilst should listen to what he has to say because it is worth it.

“Our off-air discussions are always stimulating and memorable,” Naccarato said.

When just talking to one another, Hilst and Naccarato talk about an abundance of topics.

“We exchange observations and opinions about sports, politics, news, education, culture, art, music, broadcasting, family,” Naccarato said, “And we laugh. Actually, we laugh a lot.”

Another longtime friend and co-worker of Hilst’s is Charlie Pierce, the golf coach at Hutch High and a teacher for 27 years. Having a classroom right across from one another, Pierce has had many experiences with Hilst and has gotten to know him well over the years.

Pierce mentioned that Hilst was like a mentor to him, and that whenever he has a question or something he can’t figure out, he calls Hilst because he will always have the right answer.

“I’ve known Rusty a long time,” Pierce said, “I was 30 when I started teaching and always knew about him before that. Since then, he’s helped me get a lot of places. He’s the man in charge, the man who has all the answers and is a perfect gentleman.”

 Pierce said that Hilst can talk people into making up their minds or help solve problems. Pierce brought up a memory from 1998, when one of the golf players on their team was in the state tournament and the team was in first place. A Salthawk was up and scored a five, which was the incorrect score. Hilst and Pierce both knew he scored a six and Hilst had the player turn in the right score, but made the call that it was a five. The team finished in fourth place instead of winning state.

“He does the right thing all the time and sometimes gets put in the hardest positions,” Pierce said, “He also had to put rulings in for other teams there and proved his integrity is beyond.”

Pierce’s favorite memory of Hilst was in the 1970s when his team was out playing in Carey Park. Hilst owns the course record with a 60. To be a par score, you had to get at least 71 and Hilst proved his golf skills by doing it in less.

A“hot-shot golfer” asked coach what the course record on front was and Hilst answered, “28.” The golfer said, “I had 32, who set that record?” Hilst said, “Me.” It went back and forth like that with every shot, Hilst kept telling him he broke the record for everything, and Pierce thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard.

Pierce said that Hilst was a seven-time time city golf champion and a seven-time club champion.

Not wanting to retire from teaching anytime soon, and having gained the respect of every teacher and student at Hutch High, Hilst is expected to stay as long as he is wanting. “We’re going to keep him around for a while, there’s no one like him, the kids love him and he makes them work and get well prepared for the future,” Pierce said.

Pierce has also listened to Hilst’s broadcasts and described his announcing.

 “His voice and inflection on radio is like talking to him up close and he always makes you understand the feelings of the game and helps you get what’s going on right then and there,” Pierce said.  

Hits: 105

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