Meet the Press

Announcer/milliner Schultz sports several hats in Bemidji

Kelly Schultz
(Photo courtesy of Kelly Schultz)

Kelly Schultz had a friend who had a good problem to have. With that said, it was still a problem.

Karin Housley, a Minnesota State Senator, had hoped to attend the 2017 Kentucky Derby. But her husband, NHL veteran-turned-assistant coach Phil Housley, had commitments south of the state border.

Phil’s Nashville Predators were on a travel day between Games 5 and 6 of the Central Division Final. They would be home the next day to ultimately abolish the St. Louis Blues, their second obstacle on their road to the Stanley Cup Final.

Schultz, whose own hockey knowhow manifests itself through play-by-play duties with the Bemidji State women’s program, learned Sen. Housley would be attending a Derby viewing party in Nashville. The founder of her own millinery company, she enhanced Housley’s experience by crafting her a fascinator in Predators colors.

“What is a fascinator? That’s what everyone asks me,” she said in a recent e-mail exchange with Pucks and Recreation. “Well, that’s what our friends across the pond call those elaborate headpieces worn at royal weddings.”

Royal weddings, and other occasions that have the look of a time warp to The Age of Innocence. For example, annual horse races on this side of the Atlantic that date back to 1875.

That was how Schultz came through for Housley. She eased the downside of her dilemma by making her look the part as both a horse-racing and hockey enthusiast.

Kelly Schultz

Karin Housley sports her Predators fascinator, a Kentucky Derby gift from Schultz. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Schultz)

The premise and destination of the lavish lid resonated on multiple fronts for the Beavers broadcaster as well. When she is not immersed in sewing or sports, Schultz is spinning music for Babe Country 98.3 FM in Bemidji.

“I think most people outside of Minnesota would be surprised about how popular country music is here,” Schultz admits.

Babe Country — whose moniker is a takeoff on Paul Bunyan’s pet blue ox — is one of two country stations in the market. Both happen to be the two most-listened to stations in the area.

But for the St. Paul native, it took a childhood journey to the Tennessee capital to get hooked. Before that, she was content with a steady diet of Neil Diamond and Minnesota’s own Prince.

“My dad owned every one of Neil’s albums,” she said, “and I could sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ word for word before it became a popular stadium anthem.”

Schultz’s parents were regulars at the annual Marine Corps League convention, which was generally the basis of the family of three’s summer vacation. Country stations were practically more rampant than rest areas in most of the rural locales they drove through. But that alone was too impersonal to sway the budding all-round radio connoisseur.

The year she traveled to Nashville, an encounter with Lorrie Morgan filled that void. The “Five Minutes” singer became Country Music Acquaintance Zero when she posed for a photo and gave Schultz her autograph.

“Since then, I’ve met Little Big Town, Jo Dee Messina, Craig Morgan, Phil Vassar, Trace Adkins and Lee Ann Womack,” said Schultz. “All thanks to working in country radio.”

Kelly Schultz

Schultz with fellow AWSM member Suzy Kolber, host of ESPN’s Monday Night Countdown. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Schultz)

Twin piques
Where Schultz (nee Freichels) credits her father, Arthur, for instilling an infatuation with music, she credits her late mother, LaVanche, for imparting an interest in fashion and a sports zeal. Taking the latter love to the airwaves has yielded a similarly quantitative and qualitative list of friends and influences.

After her first season of calling the Beavers in 2007-08, Schultz joined the Association for Women in Sports Media. The AWSM’s roster is a who’s who of broadcasting and print pioneers. Those who Schultz has rubbed elbows with include Christine Brennan (USA Today), Linda Cohn (ESPN), Suzy Kolber (ESPN, Fox) and Lesley Visser (Boston Globe, ABC, CBS).

But long before that, she had another female sports-crazed voice to feed off of at home. LaVanche all but single-handedly orchestrated one of her daughter’s earliest hockey memories when she scored three North Stars tickets. The game in question yielded one of many memorable melees between Minnesota’s Dino Ciccarelli and Chicago’s Denis Savard.

“My mother stood up and yelled, ‘Let’s see some blood. C’mon Dino!’” Schultz recalled. “My dad and I slumped down in our seats, pretending not to know the crazy woman screaming.

“I loved that about her, her passion for the game.”

That fervor trickled down and built a steady depth in the next generation. Schultz’s former babysitter, who dated a member of the Hill-Murray School’s powerhouse team, inspired her to enroll at the St. Paul-area Catholic institution herself.

“My mother stood up and yelled, ‘Let’s see some blood. C’mon Dino!’ My dad and I slumped down in our seats, pretending not to know the crazy woman screaming. I loved that about her, her passion for the game.” – Kelly Schultz

Much like Nashville with country music, going there enlivened what she already knew through the media about her state’s unique high-school hockey craze. She graduated in 1990, as did Craig Johnson, a soon-to-be Minnesota Gopher and eventual veteran of 10 NHL seasons. They both barely missed out on Hill-Murray’s fourth state championship run the next winter.

But tragedy struck in the home barely six months before Kelly Freichels’ commencement. On Nov. 12, 1989, LaVanche suffered a fatal heart attack at age 47. Kelly’s sports and sewing mentor was gone far too soon.

A self-proclaimed “self-taught milliner and costume designer,” Schultz has carried on to retain a repertoire that neglects no aspect of LaVanche’s legacy.

In the process, she has found ways to honor other influential relatives. She named her enterprise the Angeline Alice Millinery after her two grandmothers, Angeline Freichels and Alice Grubich. With it, she has produced such sports-oriented gear as BSU newsboy caps and a Minnesota Vikings fascinator.

Of her mother, Schultz says, “She made everything from blankets to curtains to cute little jumpsuits and dresses when I was a little girl. She taught me how to sew when I was about eight years old, and the rest is history.”

With her millinery, Schultz has produced such sports-oriented gear as BSU newsboy caps and a Minnesota Vikings fascinator.

If she did not put that history on hold, she at least relegated it to the proverbial backburner for a time. The way LaVanche’s other pastime lived on through Kelly all but derailed the latter’s fashion design dreams in college.

Enrolling at the University of Minnesota, she went to class in a Twins 1987 World Series championship sweatshirt. Most of the other would-be design majors, she recalled, “had multi-colored hair and fingernails painted black.”

Apparently, the notion of creatively combining different interests did not strike the professor. The concept of team-inspired clothing was as foreign as that of, say, the Nashville Predators at the time. (The franchise came into existence in 1998.)

Hearing her professor single out her attire as “what not to wear if you wanted to be a fashion designer,” Schultz shifted gears back to sportscasting. And once again, the comfort of home fostered her path. A TV ad for Brown College in Minneapolis touted the institute’s radio and television certificate program.

“I had already tried community college, university and now decided technical college might be the way to go,” she said.

Upon graduating in October 1993, Schultz crossed the Wisconsin border to the town of Hudson. Her first array of radio duties there set the tone for her present-day regimen. By weekday, she jockeyed for a big band station. By weekend, she served a contingent of University of Nebraska alums determined to pick up Cornhusker football games in Stillwater, Minn.

“I spent every Saturday during the college football season making sure those listeners got to hear every play,” she said. “I even became a bandwagon fan. The Cornhuskers were pretty good that year. And I’m still friends with my very first radio manager, Tom Witschen.”

Kelly Schultz

(Photo courtesy of Kelly Schultz)

The ‘one-woman-show’
Professionally speaking, Schultz’s relationship with Bemidji State has easily outlasted all prior attachments with any other entity. Five years into her tenure, she attained an undergraduate degree in sports management from the university.

Despite all of that, or maybe because of it, she is not afraid to be firm with the Beavers when the situation calls for it.

After answering Pucks and Rec’s inquiry, Schultz jetted off to Potsdam, N.Y., to call BSU’s two-game set with defending national champion Clarkson. In the series opener, the contesting goaltenders waged a classic arm-wrestling marathon before Bemidji broke down late. The Golden Knights escaped with a 2-0 victory.

Upon returning to the booth for Game 2 this past Saturday, Schultz had a blunt introductory mashup prepared. Based on Friday’s postgame pickups with head coach Jim Scanlan and her own observations, she drew a clear-cut conclusion.

And being the DJ that she is, she cued up the perfect song of the day for the background. She set Saturday’s opening essay and highlight package to a soundtrack from the British pop band Keane. Whether the emphasized refrain, “You could do so much better than this,” illustrated or lightened the mood was in the ear of the listener.

“The Beavs are way better than how they played last night,” Schultz offered in the intro. “At least, I think so. And most BSU fans would agree after watching them a week ago.” (Bemidji had tied Syracuse, 0-0, then crushed the Orange, 5-0, to start its regular season.)

That is what 13 years going on 14 of seven-day autumn and winter work weeks have done to her. She has a life beyond the Beavers, but willingly uses her outside passions to underscore her care for the team.

After her Hudson gig, five years back across the state border took Schultz around a multitude of Mississippi River towns. In June 2004, she moved north with her husband, Brian Schultz, and joined him on the Beavers beat.

For the first year, she produced the football and men’s hockey broadcasts that he announced. She kept her vocal cords in shape as a sideline reporter and substitute studio anchor.

Those dues became dividends after three years. BSU women’s hockey went in house for a play-by-play announcer, granting what Schultz dubs “the opportunity of a lifetime.”

The gig began with seven lean seasons under Steve Sertich. The Beavers finished .500 in only one season under his direction. They have more recently risen to a reckonable status under Scanlan. They cracked the 20-win plateau in his first two seasons, reached the 2015 conference tournament final and pushed the dynastic Gophers to a rubber game in a best-of-three quarterfinal series last year.

“I have always said, ‘I’m at my best when I’m busy.’” – Kelly Schultz 

The first winning campaign she covered, 2011-12, coincided with another upgrade of sorts for Schultz. She started her first DJ job since her Hudson days with a Beaver Radio Network sister station, WMIS FM 92.1. She added the country station to her plate in 2016. But she has not subtracted much, if any, glamorous or grunt work from her sportscasting side.

“I have always said, ‘I’m at my best when I’m busy,’” she said. “Proudly, I also wear many hats, pun intended.”

Unless the Beavers are on the road, Schultz spends five weekdays hosting a four-hour midday music program on Babe Country. The rest of the time, she takes charge of fielding off-air phone calls and welcoming visitors to the studio.

In a typical travel-free week, she will accumulate no fewer than 26 hours on the air. Outside of her primary day job, the other six hours come from two games, plus the two-hour “Go Green Mill Coaches Show” on Wednesday nights.

That does not take into account her research and reception hours. She spends her Sundays preparing questions for Monday media day with BSU’s other women’s athletic teams. Hockey grants access on Tuesday, and Schultz wastes no time weaving what she extracts into the coming weekend’s first game broadcast intro.

Thursday’s extracurricular activity, as it were, entails cobbling clips from around the women’s WCHA. Last season, her 10th covering the league, Schultz began producing a podcast condensing the conference’s week that was into a span of three-to-five minutes.

And all of this is still leaving out her millinery minutes. That notwithstanding, the aroma of artificial ice never fails to pump a second wind into the State of Hockey native’s tank.

“Friday is my favorite day of the week,” Schultz said. “I’m a one-woman show. I engineer, produce and voice my broadcasts, which includes pregame coach and player interviews, intermission interviews with players and postgame with our BSU coach.”

The single-sleep turnaround between Games 1 and 2 may constitute the cruncher of the week. But the call for creativity helps to cancel some of the pressure. Case in point, the “better than this” motif of the Clarkson series.

When the Beavers perform favorably and get results, country star Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind Of Night” may cue up. Or Hunter Hayes’ “Where It All Begins” may punctuate anticipation, as it did for this season’s opening game.

“That’s where my love of music really shines,” said Schultz. “I love finding songs that fit what just happened.”

Kelly Schultz

This Predators-themed fascinator went to country star Carrie Underwood, whose husband, Mike Fisher, captained Nashville to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Schultz)

Royal inspiration
The 2017 Kentucky Derby brought symmetry to two crucial developments in Schultz’s life. She had befriended Karin Housley from a distance during the 2009 Men’s Frozen Four, where Brian broadcasted BSU’s semifinal appearance. Schultz tagged along and used her new Twitter account to keep the future state senator up to speed.

“I later found out that she was married to former NHLer Phil Housley and that they had a cabin on Leech Lake in Walker, Minn., just 40 minutes from where Brian and I called home,” she said. “We’ve been friends ever since.”

Two years later, while Prince William and Kate Middleton were tying the knot, Schultz read a text from another friend. Highlighting the headwear of the wedding guests, the message insisted, “Kel, you could totally make these!”

On that particular Friday, the Beavers had been out of season for nine weeks. The woman whose Twins sweatshirt once ostensibly precluded such activity spent the evening tinkering with textiles.

The productive burst of inspiration was the basis for her business. Within a year, she was invited back to the Twin Cities for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Fashion Week’s Emerging Designer Showcase.

Leading up to this year’s derby, the Angeline Alice Millinery garnered a mention in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The May 5 listicle singled out seven dealers of “stylish Minnesota hats,” and Angeline Alice was one of the few establishments based outside of the Twin Cities area.

“Maybe someday Carrie will reach out to me for something special to wear to one of those award shows. A girl can dream, right?” – Kelly Schultz

Schultz’s insatiable appetite for originality is the enterprise’s key intangible.

“Since April 29, 2011, I have made hundreds of fascinators,” she said. “Every one of them I make is unique. I pride myself on that, because who wants to show up to a party wearing the same thing as someone else, right?”

But granted, “unique” does not mean devoid of any similarity to another product. Schultz’s ambition last spring was such that her fascination with Predators fascinators did not stop with one Nashville hockey wife.

The Preds’ playoff run would prove to be veteran forward and first-year captain Mike Fisher’s swan song. He had spent his last six-plus seasons in the city most natural for his wife of seven years, Carrie Underwood.

With Housley’s fascinator, Schultz had already intertwined two of her three defining passions. With the Queen of Country, she saw a seam with which to complete her ultimate (pun inescapable here) hat trick.

Housley happily accepted her fascinator, and passed along the other to Underwood. Two-and-a-half weeks after the playoffs ended, the Angeline Alice account fished for feedback via Twitter. “Hi @carrieunderwood! How did you like the fascinator I made for you in @PredsNHL’s colors? Hope you ❤ it!”

More than four months later, there is still no confirmation of receipt from the Queen herself. But Underwood’s silence does not miff a levelheaded radio personality whose own itinerary can make a honeybee blush.

“I didn’t take it personally,” Schultz said. “I’m sure she gets inundated with fan mail, gifts, et cetera.

“Maybe someday Carrie will reach out to me for something special to wear to one of those award shows. A girl can dream, right?”

Al Daniel

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