It seems that I have to write more of this type of article far too frequently recently. It leaves me feeling heavy with feelings of sadness and my own mortality, but also feeling fortunate for the people and influences that I have had in my life.
Another one of those left us Friday morning to join his Lord and Saviour.
As a sportscaster at WTCA in Plymouth, Rick Derf, along with his partner Corky Lingle, was indeed the voice of sports in Plymouth, really in the entire community. I don’t know if you could find a single sports fan in Marshall County during the late ’60s to the ’80s that doesn’t have Rick Derf’s voice narrating in their head when they think about the moments they remember from high school sports.
As a young coach’s kid, I remember lying on my bed, glued to my little transistor radio to hear Rick and Cork tell me how Dad was doing at the away games we didn’t go to.
I know that Rick always felt fortunate for all the great players, teams, and coaches he was able to shine a light on during his career. I know he always felt humbled by the fact he was able to call some of the most iconic games in Marshall County sports history, from Argos’ magic run to the final four in basketball to Plymouth state titles in football and basketball.
He took his responsibility seriously as the eyes of those who weren’t there, and the record of those who would come after. He is truly the standard for all of us who have come after.
As good a sportscaster as he was, he was a better man.
The minute you first met Rick he was your friend. His infectious nearly constant smile and exuberance could light up any room.
Everybody has their favorite Rick Derf story. Many of them had to do with he and Cork and the things that would find their way onto the air during a broadcast.
His own antics away from the booth were as famous as some of the games he called. He was a man who loved God, loved life, and all those around him, and enjoyed it to the fullest.
Rick was that rarest of individuals. No matter what was going on at that moment or how bad you felt, you felt better when you were around him. You were going to smile.
He found out I had an interest in being a sportscaster and I remember him calling me when I was in college and asking if I wanted some experience at the craft.
What I learned the first night from he and Cork was that the most important tool in the broadcaster’s toolbox was a dozen chicken planks from Long John Silvers.
A short time later I get another call and when I show up he hands me a broadcast kit, welcomed me to BTR (Big Time Radio as he would jokingly refer to he and Cork), and sends me to the Bi-County tourney so he and Cork can stay with the Plymouth game. My first night as a broadcaster I’m bantering on the air with two local heroes in Logansport while I’m in Lakeville covering the game.
He knew I really didn’t know what I was doing. He knew I was going to screw up. He also knew I would never learn if I didn’t and he gave me the chance to get better.
He treated everybody with that grace.
For me, Rick was the perfect example of what somebody in my profession should be.
He taught me for the first time the lesson that I would be taught again and again throughout my early career from every mentor I had, it’s not about you. You are privileged to be a part of this moment. Your job is to tell people what’s happening, not be the center of what’s happening.
For as good as he was, he never tried to draw the spotlight to himself. He was simply happy to be the one helping others enjoy that moment along with him.
I don’t know if he ever looked for a job in a “bigger market” or not. He could have had one. What Rick showed me is that it isn’t about the spotlight, or the money, it’s about being a part of something you love, doing something that you love doing.
He just loved being in the middle of it all and having a free ticket to the game.
The way Rick lived his life was an inspiration to many. It seemed he was always grateful for everything, always thinking of others, even when having health struggles over the past few years.
His last Facebook post before passing says more about who he was than all the words I’ve just written. He wrote:
“Unless God has a last minute hail Mary, I think He is taking me Home today. I am so thankful for my life and the many great friendships along the way and my incredible family. I hope to see you all at the House please come to know Jesus before your last breath. He promises me a new beginning.”
To his last breath, thankful and encouraging to others.
Thank you, Rick, for giving us BTR.