By Brian Nielsen
With a laugh Ken Wooddell acknowledges that, yes, he will still hear someone call him “The Golden Voice.”
Or someone will repeat: “Hoping the Green Wave do well, this is Ken Wooddell,” the line he regularly used on the air before retiring as Mattoon High School’s radio announcer some three decades ago but continuing to be a regular spectator at Green Wave sports events.
He decided he pretty much had to give up one broadcasting gig or another after Mattoon played a football game at Belleville on a Friday night and he arrived at Mount Pleasant, Mich., about an hour before kickoff of a Saturday Eastern Illinois University football game against Central Michigan.
Earlier this week, the 93-year-old Wooddell was recognized at a Mattoon basketball game for starting his ninth — count them — ninth decade attending Green Wave sports events.
Fresh out of military service and graduating in 3 1/2 years at the University of Illinois, Wooddell at age 23 in 1949 began broadcasting Mattoon basketball games near the scorers bench at the now torn-down Central Gym. Eventually, he was moved to a room with a picture window upstairs and then, when Mattoon opened its current gym, he was placed in an upper-balcony corner, a position fine with Wooddell — and used now by play-by-play announcer Greg Powers.
“When you’re up there, you can see it all,” Wooddell said. “I don’t know how coaches coach from down there. They have the worst seat in the house.”
Wooddell has seen plenty of Mattoon coaches, starting with John Sheahan, who gave the young buck radio announcer a sense of Central Illinois basketball. The Michigan native overheard a conversation when then Teutopolis basketball coach Jerry Griffin visited Sheahan in the locker room, suggesting the T-Town and Mattoon programs start a home-and-home series each year.
“John said, ‘Jerry, do you ever wonder why I left Effingham and came to Mattoon? I don’t have to play (Effingham) St. Anthony and T-Town now,’ ” Wooddell said. “Those teams were good then and they’re good now.”
Wooddell has seen good and not-so-good teams at Mattoon. He cites the 1974 Wave football team that beat Bloomington for a Big 12 Conference championship and postseason berth the first year the IHSA had playoffs.
In that overtime game, Mattoon coach Bill Bess chose to go for two points after its touchdown. “He said, ‘We’re going to go for two. They have a good kicker and we’ll be ahead 8-0 and they can kick it if they want,’ ” Wooddell said.
In basketball, Wooddell pointed to coach Bob Miller’s Wave team that won two sectional games at Olney to reach the 1969 Charleston Super-Sectional. “We’ve had winning seasons and losing seasons in football and basketball,” Wooddell said. “But I’ve enjoyed all of them, and they give the effort and compete. We really had to give the effort to compete when we were in the Big 12.”
So decades after retiring as a broadcaster, he remains a frequent fan in the bleachers as well as a booster club member — loyalty from this Hall of Fame member of the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association and Eastern Illinois University Athletics Hall prompted Mattoon’s current basketball players to give Wooddell an autographed basketball during announcement between the first and second quarters of a game earlier this week.
Mike Bradd, who followed Wooddell as a Green Wave radio voice and continues to broadcast EIU football and basketball, put the idea in Mattoon Athletic Director Dave Vieth’s head that this would start Wooddell’s ninth decade attending Wave sports events.
“Mike has been awfully good to me,” said Woodell, also a winner of the Illinois Broadcasters Association Pioneer Award after being nominated by Bradd. “And he’s the best play-by-play man I’ve known. I can’t see how he’s stayed in Mattoon.”
Mattoon also showed gratitude to Wooddell for being a longtime community leader with Tuesday’s recognition, something Wooddell did not see coming.
“I had no idea,” he said. “I was listening to what Vince (Walk, the public address announcer) was talking about and all of a sudden I thought: ‘That’s me.”
After all, it could have been anyone attending nine decades of Mattoon sports.