Central Kansas sports fans lost a familiar voice Sunday when well-known radio announcer Butch LaBelle died at Via Christi Regional Medical Center in Wichita at the age of 39.
LaBelle suffered a massive stroke in McPherson on Aug. 1 and had been battling for life since that time.
“Central Kansas sports fans, Tabor College and myself have lost a true friend,” said Tom Stoppel, former sports writer for the Free Press. “Without Butch to fill the airwaves, the sports world will be just a little bit more subdued.”
Born in Wichita on Nov. 3, 1966, LaBelle graduated from Bishop Carroll High School in Wichita and attended Southwestern College in Winfield on a football scholarship but missed the season due to an injury.
Although unable to play, LaBelle earned a championship ring when the Moundbuilders won the conference title. LaBelle left college after one semester when his mother became ill. She eventually died at age 40.
LaBelle began his working career in the restaurant business in Kansas and Oklahoma, but always yearned to get into broadcasting. He practiced his technique while watching games on television in his living room.
LaBelle got his first on-air broadcasting job in Herington and eventually owned Star 95 radio station in Salina before moving to McPherson.
A familiar voice for the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference, LaBelle broadcast games for Bethany College, McPherson College and followed Tabor College through its playoff runs the past several years.
LaBelle also was the host for the Tabor football coaches show last fall in Hillsboro and was the former voice of the McPherson High School Bullpups and Kansas Cagerz basketball.
Most recently, LaBelle was co-owner of StarCom Sports as well as the Central Kansas News Magazine. This spring, he served as the voice of the Wichita Aviators, an arena football club.
Stoppel said traveling with LaBelle to the NAIA women’s basketball tournament in Sioux City, Iowa, this past spring was a memorable highlight.
“Throughout our four-day stay at Sioux City, Butch introduced me to the media side of a national basketball tournament-two complimentary buffets per day and all,” he said.
“Never having met a stranger, Butch knew everyone and truly enjoyed his job. He considered the opportunity to broadcast the games he covered a blessing. His infectious smile lightened up even the darkest room and put the most temperamental person at ease.”
LaBelle is survived by his six children and stadiums full of friends. Information about services appears on Page 5A.