Remembering four of the greats we lost in 2021
- Created: Monday, 27 December 2021 16:39
By RICK PETERSON
Every year at this time I get excited for the start of a new year.
It gives us the chance to put the trials and tribulations of the past year in the rearview mirrow while looking ahead to what a new year could bring.
But while looking forward to 2022, it’s also important that we remember those we lost in 2021, including four men who had a lasting impact on sports in Shawnee County and a lasting influence on me.
Local officiating icon Rene Poort, 77 years old, longtime Hayden High announcer and Wildcat supporter Tom Smith, 64, and Silver Lake sports staple Mike Burton, 73, all passed away over the final two months of 2021, as did Gary Horn, 81, a former Kansan who few if any in this area are familiar with, but one who had a huge influence on me and my career.
Horn passed away on Nov. 20, while Poort passed on Nov. 21, Burton passed on Dec. 4 and Smith just a week before Christmas on Dec. 18.
For those who had the opportunity to rub elbows with any of these four men I'm sure they’re well aware of their contributions.
For those of you that didn’t get that chance, here’s a brief look at the legacy they left:
TOM SMITH -- Smith was a 1975 Hayden High graduate, which helped stoke a passion for the Hayden community and Wildcat sports throughout his life.
Smith was the voice of the Wildcats for 25 years, serving as the public address announcer for both football and basketball, and while fans outside of Hayden may not have known Tom by face, his voice was very recognizable, as well as his attention to detail and accuracy.
Smith always called a fair game for both Hayden and Wildcat foes, even though anyone who knew Tom knew exactly where his allegiance lied.
He was the St. Matthew youth track coach from 1994 to 2002, a Kansas Kids State Wrestling announcer for more than 20 years and was involved in Saints football for 25 years while also helping coach the Hayden wrestling team.
Smith is survived by his wife, Rose, along with four childen and 11 grandchildren.
MIKE BURTON -- Burton was a youth sports coach for baseball, flag football and basketball and was a manager of the Silver Lake American Legion baseball team for 43 years while also serving on the football chain crew for the Eagles for 47 years.
Burton, a Frankfort native, was recognized for his long service to Silver Lake amateur baseball when he was inducted into the Shawnee County Baseball Hall of Fame in 2015.
Burton was fiercely loyal to Silver Lake athletes past and present and, in his always polite and respectful way, would try to make sure his Eagles received their just due.
Mike is survived by his wife, Jill, along with two sons and two grandchildren.
RENE POORT -- A graduate of Mayetta High School and Washburn University, Poort had stints as a teacher and coach at Silver Lake High School and Hayden, but was best known for officiating basketball and football from the youth to collegiate levels.
Poort mentored numerous young officials in the Topeka area and was an active member of the Kansas State High School Activities Association as an official for 53 years. He was also actively involved in the Topeka Officials Association, where he served as president for several years.
Poort was followed into officiating by sons JT and Hunter and grandson Jarred.
Poort's career was known for his penchant for calling a fast and fair contest in both basketball and football.
Rene is survived by his wife, Connie Ann, along with six children and nine grandchildren.
GARY HORN -- Gary, almost universally known as Horn, was an immensely successful teacher and forensics/debate coach at Southwestern College in Winfield and Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich.
Horn coached multiple national debate championship teams and was inducted into multiple halls of fame, but what I'll most remember is how Horn took a horrible student who had a hard time making it to class at Southwestern, and helped him become the first college graduate in his family.
Preceded in death by Jean, his wife of more that 50 years, Horn is survived by three children, seven grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.
Rest in peace Tom, Mike, Rene and Gary.