SE: Hall of Fame Spotlight: Mitch Holthus
Mitch Holthus may not remember exactly when he fell in love with K-State, but he has a few ideas.
Perhaps it was on the weekend trips he took with his family to Manhattan to visit his grandparents. Holthus would often make the venture from his hometown of Smith Center, Kansas, to spend the weekend eating Vern’s Donuts (owned by his grandparents) and watching the Cats play.
Perhaps it was in grade school during his reign as the president of Smith Center’s prestigious K-State Club.
“I was president of my fifth grade K-State Club, and I was the only member of it, but I had a plaque on the front of my desk; I was that guy,” Holthus said with a laugh. “I was also the vice president and secretary of arms.”
He may have been the only member of that club, but boy, was he was proud of it and boy, did he love the Wildcats.
As the years passed, Holthus’ love for K-State continued to grow. He studied journalism in Kedzie Hall, met his wife, former K-State basketball star Tami Johnson, during his years as a student, and was a Kansas State University Ambassador his senior year.
“I was fortunate enough to be a K-State Ambassador,” he said. “I traveled and saw just how much the school meant to so many people.”
It was on those trips as a K-State Ambassador when Holthus realized K-State was a special place. It was then that he realized he wanted to tell the story of K-State, the proud purple school in the midst of the Flint Hills, on a larger platform.
And in 1983, when Holthus was dubbed the title Voice of the Wildcats, he had the opportunity to do just that.
Holthus spent 13 years in the position (1983-96) and earned six Sportscaster of the Year awards during his time as the Voice of the Wildcats (1987, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994).
But when he wasn’t on the call, he was hard at work sharing K-State and creating Wildcat fans. Holthus founded the Junior Wildcat Club, he started shows about K-State Athletics and helped plan and organize K-State’s first big bowl pep rally for head coach Bill Snyder in 1993.
“There were a lot of things I had to do that nobody knew I had to do,” explained Holthus. “I was sales manager of the Wildcat Sports Network, but I was always this ex officio of marketing and promotions with the athletics department.
“I wanted to make K-State national,” he continued. “I wanted to make sure people knew how special this place is, how great the people are and what the potential of it is, but we didn’t have any winning in football. We had some winning in basketball, but once Coach Snyder came, it all just snapped together.”
Over the years, Holthus’ voice became iconic in the state of Kansas. Listening to him call Wildcat games was a treat. When the Wildcats defeated Oklahoma in 1993 – the first victory over the Sooners in more than 30 years – Holthus didn’t hold back on the air.
“For the first time since Exodus Chapter 14, the Red Sea has been parted and Pharaoh’s Sooner chariots have been swallowed up because Bill Moses Snyder says, ‘Let my people go from 23 years of Sooner Bondage!” Holthus exclaimed on the radio after K-State football’s 21-7 win over Oklahoma on Oct. 30, 1993.
It’s one of the sportscaster’s most memorable calls at K-State.
“It’s a big, big, big, Big, Big, Big, BIG, BIG, BIG, BIIIG Kansas State victory!”
That same season, Holthus traveled to his first bowl game with the Wildcats.
“I remember in ‘93, we just beat Missouri and we were going to go to a bowl after we had been so close in the two seasons prior to that, but all my euphoria quickly ended when I saw Coach Snyder; he always kept me on the ground,” Holthus said with a smile. “Coach said, ‘You need to put together a pep rally for me in Tucson.’ I didn’t want to disappoint coach or the team, and that was a special team, so I didn’t want to screw it up.
“I was praying we’d get 500 people there,” he continued. “We were at the Westin La Paloma up in the hills north of Tucson, Arizona, it was hard to get to, and I thought, ‘No one is going to come to this,’ but then it was like the feeding of the 5,000. The team walked in single file – it gives me chills to talk about it – and I saw the tears in
the eyes of the guys and I knew what that moment meant. It was bigger than that moment.”
The hotel ballroom was filled to capacity as Wildcat fans showed up in full force for that first pep rally before the 1993 Copper Bowl. The pep rally was so big, the hotel ran out of parking, it had to turn people away. It was one of Holthus’ favorite moments at K-State and became a vital moment in K-State football history.
Holthus’ love for his alma mater came full circle last summer on an exit ramp in Houston, Texas. While in the Lone Star state for a function with the Kansas City Chiefs, Holthus received a phone call he will never forget.
On the other line was K-State Associate Athletics Director for Communications Kenny Lannou – Chair of the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame – calling to tell Holthus he would soon be inducted.
“It means everything to me, to every fiber of my mind, body and soul,” Holthus said. “The emotions that flowed through me when I got the call; it’s hard to describe it. My whole K-State life flashed before my eyes on that exit ramp in Houston. When I pulled off onto that exit, I had tears in my eyes.”
Since his days working at K-State, Holthus has taken the title of the Voice of the Kansas City Chiefs. He recently finished his 22nd season with the Chiefs and is the longest tenured play-by-play announcer in the team’s history.
Holthus called the last basketball game in Ahearn Field House and the first basketball game in Bramlage Coliseum. From the press box of Bill Snyder Family Stadium (then KSU Stadium) to press box in Arrowhead Stadium, he has had an exciting career, to say the least. Holthus made lasting memories in the Little Apple and will forever hold K-State in his heart.
Friday, January 29, 2016, was a special, special day for Holthus. It was on that day that he, along with nine other Wildcat greats, was inducted into the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame.
Like the moment on an exit ramp in Houston, Holthus’ K-State life flashed before his eyes once again as he put on the purple Hall of Fame jacket and spilled his heart to a room filled with K-Staters at the induction ceremony.
Though today Holthus may not be able to pinpoint the exact moment he fell in love with K-State – there were so, so many moments – one thing is certain: as a recent Hall of Famer, his love for the Wildcats is just as strong now as it was during his days as the fifth grade K-State Club president.
And with his recent induction into the K-State Athletics Hall of Fame, Mitch Holthus and his big, big, big, BIG voice will forever be loved by and forever be a part of the history of K-State.
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