When Bill Althaus first saw the envelope, he didn’t give it much thought.
It came from Sharon Cole, the athletic director at Pembroke Hill. He had chatted with her recently and thought she was just sending a note.
Boy, was he wrong.
“I just threw it on my desk,” Althaus said. “I went and covered something, came back, wrote my story. And I open this letter ... and the first line is, ‘Congratulations on being inducted into the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Hall of Fame.’”
Turns out the letter was from Sam Knopik, Pembroke Hill’s football coach and president of the Greater Kansas City Football Coaches Association. Althaus, who for 38 years has covered all kinds of sports at The Examiner, and former Blue Springs South coach Buddy Young, have both been selected for the Hall of Fame’s 2020 class.
Althaus, Young and the rest of the yet-to-be announced class will be honored during halftime of the annual Kansas vs. Missouri All-Star Game, set for June 11 at North Kansas City High School.
“This just came out of the blue,” Althaus said. “I don’t know where this came from. Opening that letter was one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me in my life.”
Althaus is the first sports writer selected for the Hall of Fame, which inducted its first class of former coaches and others associated with Kansas City high school football in 2015. He’s already a member of the Fort Osage and Grain Valley halls of fame and a recipient of the Simone Awards committee’s Gordon Docking Award for contributions to high school sports coverage.
He’s covered every Royals home postseason game, several Chiefs’ playoff games at Arrowhead Stadium and everything else in the sports spectrum. But this honor recognizes what Althaus considers his first true love – high school football. And that just makes it all the more special.
“People ask me all the time what’s my favorite thing to cover,” Althaus said. “It may change now that Patrick Mahomes is here … but Friday night under the lights, I live for that. I drive down 24 Highway and I see those Fort Osage lights off in the distance all by themselves and I get chills, still.”
And Althaus has experienced countless thrills and chills under those lights. Watching Stinson Dean lead Blue Springs to an improbable state title in 2003. Skylar Thompson and Fort Osage winning it all in 2015 after heartbreak the previous two seasons. A memorable matchup between Blue Springs and future K-Stater Dalvin Warmack, Nebraska’s Khalil and Carlos Davis and the NFL’s Elijah Lee and Lee’s Summit West three-sport standout Monte Harrison.
“It’s like ‘who’s your favorite child?,’” Althaus said. “There are so many memories. There’s nothing better than being in a locker room when a team wins a state championship and nothing worse than having to talk to those kids (when they lose). It gets personal for me.”
The personal touch is important to Althaus, who enjoys getting to know the players and the coaches. That’s not easy to do in big-league locker rooms, where the relationship tends to be more adversarial.
Kelly Donohoe, who retired after 20 years as Blue Springs’ head football coach to take over next fall at Rockhurst, said Althaus genuinely cares about the players and coaches he covers.
“It's not just a job for Bill; he is passionate about sports and the teams he covers,” Donohoe said. “Bill has a tremendous ability to make every athlete and coach he interviews feel very special.”
Before his long tenure at Blue Springs, Donohoe was an assistant coach at Blue Springs South under Young. So was Greg Oder, who succeeded Young at South and won three state titles over 16 seasons.
“Every year at Blue Springs South was wonderful,” Young said. “All the staff there was just tremendous.”
Young coached at Blue Springs South from 1995-2000, compiling a 49-17 record over six seasons. His 1995 team reached the Class 5A final. He was also the Jaguars’ athletic director from 1997 until he retired in 2004.
“It’s an extremely high honor and unexpected,” said Young, who does color commentary for Jaguar football games on KCWJ 1030 AM. “I consider it quite a blessing and I’m just thankful that they remember who I am.”