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A longtime voice for Wyoming Cowboy athletic events steps away from the mic after four decades

Jack Nokes
Jack Nokes with his family in the press box at War Memorial Stadium. One of only two PA announcers since the opening of the stadium in 1950, Nokes has only missed a handful of Cowboy home football games in 41 years.

On November 19, a voice that was heard by generations of Wyoming Cowboy fans at War Memorial Stadium called his final game: the Cowboys against Boise State. Wyoming Public Radio’s Hugh Cook spoke with longtime public address announcer Jack Nokes about his four decades of sports announcing.

Jack Nokes: I had been working for KTWO television and radio and at that time they were together [and I was] doing radio play by play. I had done the sideline mic for the University of Wyoming broadcasts, and I was actually employed as a stockbroker then, and Kevin [McKinney] called me one day and asked me if I wanted to be the PA announcer for football. My first reaction was, ‘Well, what about Walt?’ Walt Miller was my predecessor, the only predecessor. He started in 1950, when they first opened the stadium, lived in Cheyenne, was an insurance man actually [and] wound up being a client of mine when I was a stockbroker. And I was like, ‘Kevin, nobody replaces Walt. That's impossible. He is the voice.’ And you know, 40 years later, Kevin and I've talked about it and we both agree, for us the voice of War Memorial Stadium isn't me, it's Walt Miller still. He’s still, 40 years later, he's up here in our minds, and we can hear him. He was a class act and I was like, ‘Nobody can follow Walt.’ But I did and it was my honor to do so. I think it's amazing that there have only been two of us in the history of that stadium, two full time guys, so I'm proud to be one of them.

Hugh Cook: Two PA announcers in 72 years.

JN: Seventy-two years, yeah. Prior to this year, I had missed, I think, five games in 40 years. Now, I missed the first four this year because of some health issues but of those five games, I had missed only two of them and I'm sure they were because the roads were closed or too bad to travel, which is amazing. We think about Shirley Basin and how nasty it can be in the fall and winter. [A] couple others I missed, one because of a job, and I think two others, when one of your kids gets married or two of them gets married, they like to have you at the wedding. So, but pretty good. When you think about it, it's a bigger commitment than people realize.

HC: Over 41 years, I'm sure there are a lot of memories and a lot of things that stick out in your mind for the last four decades. What are some of those big moments?

Jack Nokes stands in Wyoming Cowboys gear at the window of the War Memorial Stadium press box.
Jack Nokes
Jack Nokes stands in the press box at War Memorial Stadium. Several generations of Cowboy fans heard his voice at nearly all football games in addition to other UW athletic events since the early 1980s.

JN: Well, when you do the PA you see the game from a completely different perspective. I mean, I've got people next to me producing and talking into the band, I've got a spotter with me, I have the music guy up top. I think the things I remember rather than specific plays, and there are a few, are just how things have progressed from when I started out doing this. They would give me a script every day, every game, that included maybe 60 announcements, because back then there [were] no scoreboards with video and stuff and ads, there were no ads in the stadium. So, I would have a spotter next to me and believe it or not the Chief of Police for the city and the Chief of Police for the campus right above me in the booth above me in my booth, checking out the crowd, making sure there were no unruly students, which, we know that never happens. So, it was just the four of us in that booth and I would actually just try and put in the various ads and announcements in between plays, actually. And I'd hoped to have them all done by the third quarter. Just because if there was a close in the fourth quarter and stuff you didn't want to be in the middle of an announcement in the middle of a big play, so I was pretty much on my own. I was part of the sports information department. There was no marketing department per se. And Kevin [McKinney], when he took over there for Bill Young as sports information director and his assistant, now Tim Harkins, would come down to the booth occasionally [to] say, ‘We got to do this or you missed that or we got to... you know.’ So, it was basically just me on my own. Over the years that has evolved now to where there's a game site producer plugged into the band and plugged into the people down in the TV studio who are putting up the instant replays and stuff. There's a lot more activity going on than there was, that's been the biggest change. The other changes I think have been more the physical plant. Back then grass, it was the most hallowed piece of grass in the state of Wyoming. I think Jim Trabing was the guy who took care of it. [It] was meticulous, but no matter how well you took care of it, by the first of November, it was like concrete. There were no lights. Everything was, there was no nothing in the north end zone as far as the app, The IPF, or the Rochelle Athletic Center, or the high performance thing, [it] was just the trees and there were some knothole seats there too for little kids, so it's those things that probably more than specific plays. But if you want to have one memory and I think it's the same memory for everyone in my age group now, it is the first night game ever at War Memorial Stadium, first game nationally televised on ESPN. And, of course, it was Wyoming's win over BYU [Brigham Young University] to start the season in 1988. Amazing football game. We're all kind of just mesmerized about being on national TV and having it at night. Great crowd, Wyoming won it. And they had a great game plan for BYU. They sacked them like seven or eight times. It was probably the most fun football game, the most remembered. Although the overtime or the win against CSU [Colorado State University] a few years ago in the blizzard with the fumble recovery by Cash Malula was amazing. Garrett Crall’s little safety dance in the endzone for the Boise game when they went on to meet San Diego State then in the conference championship. Those are big memories. And then the one memory that sticks out recently is Josh Allen, and I'll tell you why it sticks out. It's his first game and I have a brand new spotter with me who works on the campus, [and] is one of the Pepsi guys on campus. And it's our first time working together and we're into like his first or second series and we all knew he had a great arm. And he decides to run and takes on this safety and just blitzes the guy. I can't remember how many hours again, but we looked at each other and went, ‘Wow, he's a big dude. I hope he doesn't try that all the time, though.’ Next play or two plays later, he gets outside, tries again. This time, it's a linebacker coming up on him. And both of us look at each other and go, ‘Slide, slide.’ And we look at each other and go, ‘He didn't slide.’ That's when he broke his collarbone in seven places. We were, yeah, we were both going, ‘Oh, how did that happen?’ Yeah, we didn't know he’d broken his collarbone at that time, but that play stands out just because we were brand new working together. Here's a brand-new quarterback that everybody's looking forward to and he's played like 15 plays, and he's out for the season. So, some things stick out like that.

HC: When you first started taking over PA responsibilities 41 years ago, did you have any idea that it would be more than four decades that you would be doing this?

JN: Oh, no, no. You know, doing the football led to basketball. Jim Brandenburg and I were good friends from while he was coaching, obviously, but my days in the media and the football led into, ‘Do you want to do basketball too?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, sure. I'm young. I can drive across Shirley Basin.’ I had no clue that it would last 41 years. Like a lot of people in radio and television and sports at that time, I was looking for a play-by-play job. I was hoping it would be my [entry]. Larry Birleffi, he was still doing play-by-play into [me] doing play-by-play, so I didn't intend to stay just doing it. But back then too, PA was not, now you got all these guys for the pro leagues and stuff. They get paid and they go out and do public appearances and stuff. It wasn't an art form, if you will, that it's become now. So no, I had no idea it lasts that long. I'm glad it did. It's been a great run and I love the association with people in the press box, too.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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