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Fergus Falls, Minn. — Odis "Oats" LeGrand was a gifted athlete, especially in baseball. LeGrand grew up in Moorhead. He played baseball in the old Northern League for the Crookston Pirates. When his playing days ended, he became a physical education teacher and coach.
In 1952, a Fergus Falls radio station offered LeGrand a chance to do play-by-play announcing, and he decided to give it a try. From his first broadcast, a baseball game at the old fairgrounds in Fergus Falls, Oats was anything but shy.
"The first guy hit a foul ball, and (the catcher) came back, and right in front of the press box he dropped the ball. I said, 'Well, it must have taken a bad hop to miss that one,'" LeGrand recalled. "Then there was a little break in the action. First thing I know here's that catcher coming into the press box, and he says, 'If you ever say that about me again you're going to get your nose punched.'"
It would not be the last time LeGrand's commentary upset someone, as his nephew Craig Olson recalls. Olson, who is also a sportscaster in Fergus Falls, remembers a football game where Oats described a halfback as "faking a defender out of his jock strap." Some listeners complained, and station management ordered Oats not to use that term again. During the next game, the situation repeated itself.
"And Oats right there (said), 'He faked him right out of that piece of equipment that I can't refer to on the air anymore,'" Olson recalled.
Olson knows enough stories about his uncle to fill a book.
"The time he was in the football press box and a storm came ... and the wind blew the press box over. It was being supported by the power cable," said Olson. "He's holding on to the top of the press box and this thing is just kind of hanging there in the balance."
LeGrand was able to crawl out of the press box and finish the game. Oats once described his broadcasting style as a cross between Hall of Famers Dizzy Dean and Harry Caray. Some of Oats' phrases are known as "Oatsisms."
LeGrand had the talent to make games come alive -- to paint a visual picture for his radio audience. Like his call in an 1982 football playoff game between Hillcrest Academy and Toivola-Meadowlands. LeGrand said a pass receiver was so open, "he could have stopped for a hamburger."
LeGrand did more than 4,000 broadcasts of high school games. Oats didn't just call games, he offered athletes advice on how to influence officials.
And like great athletes, Oats played hurt. In 1977, LeGrand had his knees replaced. Occasionally they would lock up, and he would need help to get out of his chair.
Craig Olson says his uncle had some close calls, including one at a hockey game at the ice arena in Fergus Falls.
"Oats wore this stocking cap with a little tassle on the top of it. He's broadcasting the game and there's this light bulb above his head," Olson said. "Of course it gets hot, and all of a sudden the cap starts smoldering. Oats is like, 'What's on fire up here? What's burning up here?' 'It's your hat, Oats.'"
Oats LeGrand is admired for being more than just a sportscaster. He has also been an advocate for rural high school athletics. If he thought rural schools were being slighted in favor of their urban counterparts, he spoke out and wrote letters to officials for a fair shake.
LeGrand always presented a rough and gruff image to people, especially his students. Jack Raaen was Oats LeGrand's neighbor and student. He says most kids remember Oats for his "board of education," a paddle LeGrand used on students for disciplinary reasons.
Raaen says most kids came to see through the gruff exterior. Raaen says LeGrand is one of the reasons he became a teacher. He says LeGrand left students with an idea of what is fair.
"He would also take those kids that didn't have the talent, and make sure that they played and got to be a part of what we did," said Raaen. "(He) didn't leave them abandoned out there, not learning what they were supposed to in the classroom."
Oats LeGrand retired from teaching in 1977 after 31 years in the classroom. He retired from broadcasting in 1998. Now 86, Oats LeGrand is still working with kids -- encouraging them to lead a healthy life.
(Play-by-play audio courtesy of Richard RisBrudt, athletic director and football coach at Hillcrest Academy in Fergus Falls)