Former Telegram sports editor inducted into UWS Athletics Hall of Fame
Ken Olson joined five other individuals and one team in being honored Saturday, July 23.
SUPERIOR — "I graduated from Superior Senior High School in June 1979, and a month later I started at the Telegram. While working afternoons, I put myself through at what was then Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College, earning an associate's degree in data processing and computer programming in 1983," Ken Olson said. "I worked in the circulation department at the Telegram, and my degree helped us create our computer billing system for the circulation department."
Then, in 1993, everything changed.
"Stan May passed away. He'd been covering UWS since 1950, and with his passing management sought his replacement, but after the initial search they opened the position in-house," Olson said. "I was interested, but I had no writing experience or journalism degree. It was a big decision, but with the support of my wife, Shannon, and my family, I applied for the position. I had an interview and an assignment of typing up the results of a high school tennis match, and after that I was offered the position by news editor Mike Payton and sports editor John Davy."
And so began a sports journey that lasted 27 years, culminating Saturday, July 23, with Olson being inducted into the Wisconsin-Superior Athletic Hall of Fame. Olson is the 2022 recipient of the Carl Vergamini Award for his contributions to Yellowjacket Athletics.
He joined five individuals and one team in being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
For nearly three decades, from local softball and bowling leagues to Superior High School and the Yellowjackets, if there was a sporting event in Superior, or an event involving a team from Superior, Ken Olson was there.
"I can't even imagine what the count is for the number of games and events he covered in his time at the Telegram, but I would imagine it numbers in the tens of thousands," said Jon Garver , director of communications for Yellowjacket Athletics. "It was enough where, at least in the press boxes in our buildings, Kenny had his spot and we didn't allow other people to use his spot on game day."
A Superior native, Olson and UW-Superior have been intertwined since the days of his youth.
"My earliest memories of UWS sports were attending basketball games and boxing matches at the old Gates Gym with my dad (Putta Olson). When we got a bit older, my friends and I were always trying to get broken bats after baseball games and broken hockey sticks after hockey games," Olson said. "We used to play tackle football on the lush grass where the Lydia Thering Fieldhouse is now and then snuck into the swimming pool a couple times. It was a big deal to play our youth football games at Ole Haugsrud Field. We rarely missed any basketball games when the "Killer Bees" played in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Saturday afternoon football games were a must."
His time with the Telegram kept him updated on what was going on in Superior, both in news and in sports. And there were many nights where he would hang around the sports department, where, in the era before the internet, coaches from area teams had to call in their scores. His time as the Telegram's sports writer (1993-2003) and sports editor (2003-2020) also provided him with some memories that will last a lifetime.
"All of the athletic teams were important to us at the Telegram, but of course, there were a ton of hockey memories, including covering six Frozen Fours, two of which were here at Wessman Arena. Jeff Glowa's pre-tournament speech at the 2001 Frozen Four in Rochester, N.Y. Defeating Bemidji State in the final game against each other as Bemidji was moving up to Division I the next year. The many battles with St. Norbert, UW-Stevens Point and UW-River Falls," Olson recalled. "Other highlights included covering Sally Linzmeier's career that included breaking the school's scoring record, leading the Yellowjackets to their first and only WIAC regular season championship in 2015 and second place finishes in the WIAC tournament in 2014 and 2015.
"It was fun watching Vince Thomas help turn around the men's basketball program, Jake Smith breaking Jim Sevals' scoring record on Feb. 5, 2011, and Roger Plachta getting hired and turning the softball program into a powerhouse."
There was also a huge non-sports highlight.
"In 1996 I was assigned to take photos when Arnold Schwarzenegger received his honorary degree and the photo I took made it into People Magazine and eventually onto a graduation card, which enjoyed three printings," Olson said.
Greeting cards aside, Olson has left an indelible mark on his community, and its university.
"Over the years I've been very fortunate to get to know Kenny really well. More than once I leaned on him to get something printed in the Telegram or just to get some information. He truly is a living, breathing encyclopedia of Superior," Garver said. "I'm happy for him that the Hall of Fame committee voted to induct him. He deserves this award more than anyone I know."