2009 Herald Sportsperson of the Year: Yup, it's Mark Kauk
Most days start the same for Mark Kauk. By 7 a.m., he's listening to one of the local radio stations. Usually, he calls to check in for the day. The Big Dogz, Tim and Swyg, and Mac Talk usually hear from Mark, who calls to wish one of the Greater...
Most days start the same for Mark Kauk.
By 7 a.m., he's listening to one of the local radio stations. Usually, he calls to check in for the day. The Big Dogz, Tim and Swyg, and Mac Talk usually hear from Mark, who calls to wish one of the Greater Grand Forks teams good luck or just to chat about sports in general.
By mid-afternoon, he's on the move -- headed to a Sioux practice or one of the high schools, where he'll sit through sophomore, junior-varsity and varsity games. The sport doesn't matter. Football, basketball, volleyball and baseball are all the same to Mark.
He's a fan of every sport that's played in Greater Grand Forks.
Mark's appreciation for sports doesn't stop with high school and college teams, either. Mark makes his rounds at city league basketball and hockey games. During the summer, he's watching softball and is a Friday night fixture in pits at River Cities Speedway, watching out for his favorite driver.
At Kraft Field, Mark runs the scoreboard for virtually every game that is played at the diamond from the start of UND baseball through the end of the Grand Forks Legion season.
Curling? Mark is on that beat, too.
Whatever the sport, Mark is around it. And it's been that way for years, ever since he graduated from Grand Forks Central in 1984.
So, why does he go to game after game, night after night, year after year?
"Because I like going to games and getting the guys fired up," Mark said.
That is the purest definition of a fan. And there is no bigger sports fan in Greater Grand Forks than Mark, who is 2009 Herald Sportsperson of the Year.
Mark is developmentally disabled, but his handicap has never stopped him from doing what he loves the most -- attending games and helping out wherever or however he can. He doesn't drive but moves about Greater Grand Forks at stealth speed as his network of support is immense.
It would be easier to name the people who haven't given Mark a ride to a sporting event in the city than it would be to name those who have.
He's a fan of few words, too. "Yup," is Mark's response to just about everything.
But the support he shows speaks volumes about his commitment to every team in Greater Grand Forks.
While he likes all Grand Forks and East Grand Forks teams, Mark does have his favorites.
He's hard to pin down on his favorite teams, but two stick out -- UND football and Grand Forks Central hockey.
He's perhaps most known for his support of Sioux football. He's on the sideline of every Sioux home game, wearing a green No. 43 jersey and raising his arms to help "fire up the crowd."
Coaches appreciate Mark's commitment, too.
And nearly every coach has a story or two about Mark.
Mark accompanied the Sioux hockey team on a few road trips when Dean Blais was the UND coach.
"I remember him doing belly flops off of the pool deck in Bemidji with Dean," current Sioux coach Dave Hakstol said.
Hakstol also views Mark as a super fan, one known by virtually everyone.
"Mark is a guy who is always there," Hakstol said. "I love hearing his recaps in the morning of the city league games the night before. I love hearing his passion.
"He's an icon of sports in Grand Forks. Everyone knows the man. I think everybody, including visiting teams and fans, know who he is. And that's pretty neat."
Mark's passion is sports. But he also wants to share that passion with everyone, including the media.
At times, Mark has known the score of out-of-town games before it reaches the Herald or WDAZ-TV. And Mark makes sure the Herald and WDAZ-TV are aware of the result.
He doesn't need a speed dial; he has nearly everyone's telephone number memorized. He still remembers the jersey numbers players wore more than 10 years ago.
Mark also has his own column in the Listener, a newsletter published by the LISTEN Center, a nonprofit organization that provides services for people with disabilities.
In each edition, Mark writes "Kauker's Corner," a recap of what's happened in the area.
An excerpt from the last edition includes his take on the Minnesota Vikings: "Brett Favre should be MVP -- he has been playing out of his mind. That bad boy is only four years younger than me!"
He also recapped the recent UND women's hockey series against Maine. "Gretzky (longtime friend Terry Hajicek), Terri H. and I went to the UND hockey girls game, we really fired them up. They played Maine, tying it up at 5-5, 3-3."
To Mark, firing up the Sioux women's hockey team was necessary and expected of him. That's his role.
Mark spends most of his time at sporting events. But he also is a regular at the LISTEN Center.
His role there, as well, is to help.
Carla Tice, the LISTEN program director, said Mark has a heart of gold.
"Mark has so much passion for every single player," Tice said. "The cool thing about Mark is that he has a magical way of keeping everyone connected.
"And it really doesn't matter if the season is remarkable or not. You'll always remember Mark."
Nelson reports on sports. Reach him at (701) 780-1268; (800) 477-6572, ext. 268; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org .