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The longtime “Voice of the Hilltoppers” was recognized for three decades of work with an ambush anniversary party recently.
Local radio personality, Gene Mortensen, was recently recognized for his work in tirelessly traveling the state to bring Hilltopper fans the play by play for a variety of sports.
The center court collaboration was a surprise to Mortensen during the Los Alamos girls basketball game Nov. 29.
David and Gillian Sutton, owners of AM 1490, KRSN, Mountain Elementary Principal and KRSN commentator Mike Katko as well as LAHS Principal Grace Brown and Athletic Director Vicky Nelms were in on the community appreciation conspiracy.
The Suttons know better than most how important Mortensen is to the local high school sports scene and appreciate and value his commitment to broadcasting.
“It is obvious he values the Los Alamos High School youth by making sure the Los Alamos community can hear how well the athletic teams are doing,” Gillian Sutton said. “Los Alamos High School is very fortunate to have such a dedicated advocate of their student athletic programs.”
Mortensen came to Los Alamos with his wife Gail and family of six children in 1968.
He worked as an analytical chemist for Los Alamos National Laboratory until retiring in 1994.
The Mortensens will celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary this month.
One son, Dean Mortensen, who currently lives in Lubbock, Texas, listens to his dad’s radio broadcasts by streaming the local station at www.krsnam1490.com.
“In fact, because of Dad’s announcing, my neighbors have become avid ’Topper fans,” said the younger Mortensen. “Sitting on the driveway in Lubbock listening to Hilltopper football has become a fall tradition with my neighbors, Rex Henderson and Mack Bynum.”
Bynum, who is currently battling bone cancer and according to Dean Mortensen has credited the enjoyment of listening to Gene’s broadcasts every Friday as a large part of his recovery.
“One of my greatest memories of dad announcing our games was in 1985 when I was a senior on the LAHS basketball team,” Dean Mortensen said. “I made a last-second shot in an important game. Griffith Gym was going crazy, but no one more so than dad. He was standing up behind the scorer’s table swinging the microphone around by the cord like Roger Daltrey of The Who. Then he used the mic as his own personal megaphone and yelled out the shot and my name, and the gym erupted again.”
Gene Mortensen is also no stranger to sports himself being very athletic in his younger days.
At St. Mary’s High School in Albuquerque he was captain of the basketball team, quarterback for the football team, and ran hurdles in track.
He also demonstrated his future skills for radio with his talent and comfort in front of a microphone.
Mortensen placed first at the State Speech Meet for After Dinner Speaking his junior and senior years.
Mortensen’s son Kent also shared fond memories of Dad’s dedication.
Kent described the elder Mortensen’s willingness to help at a moment’s notice among his many admirable traits.
“For the past 30 years, he has traveled all over New Mexico announcing or broadcasting football, baseball, basketball, volleyball, soccer, tennis, wrestling, you name it,” he said. “If a sport needs an announcer, Dad will be there.”
Kent Mortensen said his father’s dedication can best be illustrated by the time he broke his ribs in a fall but still insisted, to the objections of his family, to travel down to Española the following day and broadcast a Hilltopper football game on the radio while sitting in the stands in the freezing cold.
His argument was that there was nobody to fill in for him.
Those extra efforts by Mortensen are mostly appreciated by parents and others unable to travel to out of town events.
“Without him, LAHS sport coverage would not have the intensity and in depth coverage that only lasts,” Sutton said. “Without him, LAHS sports coverage would not have the intensity and in depth coverage that only his endless dedication has provided.”
Brown and Nelms said they are both proud to have Mortensen as their colleague.
“Gene Mortensen is a part of the LA community who are dedicated to making this town a better place through his support of young people and their activities,” Brown said.
Nelms has known Mortensen for a year and half since becoming the school’s athletic director.
“He supports the athletic program in so many positive ways and is a tremendous asset to athletic program. It is just a tremendous honor to work with Gene,” Nelms said.
In 1997, he was chosen by Dan Salzwedel, the New Mexico Activities Association executive director at the time, to be one of the P.A. announcers for the boys and girls basketball state tournaments, which took place at University Arena (The Pit) in Albuquerque.
Salzwedel drove up to Los Alamos to watch the Hilltopper boys play Taos to scout him.
Mortensen has continued to announce the boys and girls state tournament basketball games in Albuquerque ever since.
Katko, who also happens to be Mortensen’s son-in-law, has done color for several years with Mortensen.
“Dad would announce a cookie eating championship,” Katko said.