Jim Cotter loved to brag about his kids.
This past Saturday was no exception.
Cotter took time out from covering the University of Illinois football season opener to make sure and tell his fellow reporters about his son, Austin, and what he achieved the night before playing for the St. Joseph-Ogden High School football team.
“He got a chance to watch Austin play well against Monticello on Friday night for SJO — including a chant from the student section after a big play — and then couldn’t help but tell everyone about it at Saturday’s Illinois game,” said Scott Richey, Illinois beat writer for The News-Gazette. “He was a good man and a proud dad, and I’m glad I got a chance to get to know him the last seven years.”
Cotter, who covered the University of Illinois and high school athletics for numerous media outlets, died on Monday. He was 55 years old.
SJO superintendent Brian Brooks said it was clear Cotter loved covering sports.
“He was a very genuine person,” Brooks said.
Brooks said he would remember Cotter’s love for covering the Illini, his love for covering SJO and high school athletics and his family.
“My heart goes out to his entire family,” Brooks said. “We lost a very good man in Jim Cotter.”
SJO football coach Shawn Skinner echoed Brooks’ sentiments.
Skinner said Cotter was one of the most genuinely kind people he ever had the pleasure of knowing.
“He was good for a smile, a laugh or a pat on the back if that’s what you needed,” Skinner said. “He was honest, but he had a positivity to his honesty that was never failing.”
Skinner said Cotter’s love for his children — Elena, Austin and Caleb — and his wife Susan was evident anytime you talked to him.
“Everyone loves their family,” Skinner said, “but he projected his pride and love for his wife and kids that was never absent.”
Skinner said Cotter was a professional reporter who enjoyed covering sports but never let his coverage veer into fan territory. Even when covering teams his son played on.
“As the dad of Austin, he never blurred a line between dad/reporter. He was involved in his kids’ activities and was always able to be both a parent and still report on the games,” Skinner said. “Sometimes he was too polite in requesting interviews and conversations. I will miss walking off the practice fields and game fields seeing that big smile of his and hearing him ask, ‘Can I get one minute, Coach?’”
Cotter also co-hosted a sports-themed podcast with his friend Jeff Primmer. The podcast, called the “Jim and Prim Show” ran for 55 episodes and featured high school athletes as well as local celebrities like former Illinois men’s basketball standout Deon Thomas.
“Jim and I began doing the ‘Jim and Prim Show’ podcast because we thought it would be fun,” Primmer said. “I can speak for him and I when I say it surpassed our expectations in that regard.”
Primmer said Cotter was the more polished broadcaster because he frequently appeared on radio stations discussing local sports.
“But over the course of our 55-episode run, he loosened the reins on himself a little bit and just enjoyed himself,” Primmer said. “Jim treated each guest the same — with the utmost respect and professionalism. He didn’t care if he was interviewing Deon Thomas or the fifth-string SJO JV quarterback. He treated everyone with the same level of courtesy and respect.”
Primmer said he would miss seeing his friend on Sundays when they recorded their podcast and miss their conversations centering around sports, family and Seinfeld episodes, of which Cotter was a huge fan.
“Jim was just a kind, caring individual,” Primmer said. “It mattered to him how people were doing in their lives, and he genuinely cared. He loved sports, and it was part of who he was, but he never let sports interfere with being there for his family. If Caleb or Austin had a game, or Elena had a band competition during an Illini game, Jim would find a way to make it to both and keep everybody happy. That’s just what dads do, and Jim got that.”
Primmer said Cotter was quick with a kind, supportive word.
“I’m going to miss him. A lot,” Primmer said. “There really isn’t anywhere you can go in central Illinois that wouldn’t remind you of him. He was always there — always around with a kind word or a sports tidbit to brighten up your day. If the world had a million or so more Jim Cotters in it, we’d be much better off.”
Tammie Mabry got to know Cotter while he was covering SJO cross-country for the Leader.
Mabry said Cotter wrote about the meets and the athletes like it was second nature for him.
“He was a natural,” she said. “All of that was great, but it was more than that. When my daughter went to run at EIU, he still asked me how she was doing. He didn’t forget our kids. He kept up with their times and experiences even if he wasn’t there in person covering it.”
Mabry said her son Charlie was a guest on The Jim and Prim Show earlier this year.
“Those guys are ‘football guys,’ but they didn’t look over our athletes in the running world,” she said. “He was a one of a kind sports reporter. All sports will miss what he brought, but mostly the athletes that he got to know and celebrated.”
Cindy Berry agreed.
Berry said she was attending her daughter Hope Rajlich’s tennis sectional match last October and saw Cotter who told her he had never been to a high school tennis match but thought it was amazing the girls had the opportunity to play. Cotter than invited Rajlich onto his podcast and invited her back in June to talk about the track team.
“You see, Jim’s passion for SJO sports was for all of the sports, not just the big” ones or the ones his son participated in,” Berry said.
Rajlich saw Cotter Friday night at the SJO football game. He asked her when her next tennis match was and said he would be there to watch.
“Hope told me through tears last night that she was just some kid and he was going to take time out of his day to come watch her. But you see, that was Jim. He loved the Spartan and was so supportive of all of these kids in our community. And he always did it with such enthusiasm and with a smile on his face,” Berry said.
Val Early Smith and her husband Jason were friends with Cotter and his family. They met the Cotters at a recreation softball game in Ogden where Jason and Cotter hit it off instantly.
“But some of our greatest memories are when we would get together for family game nights or spending a weekend night around the fire,” Smith said. “You could always count on Jason and Jim talking sports while sharing a big beer. They shared an interest in craft beers. They could talk for hours while sharing the newest craft beer they had picked up. There were also many laughs during these times.”
Lindsey Kelso worked with Cotter at the University of Illinois Map Library. Cotter worked in the University of Illinois library system for more than 30 years. Kelso said Cotter was always in a good mood and happy to help people.
“He was always eager to teach us new things and it made the map library a great atmosphere,” she said. “He would pull us over if we happened to have a cool map out to make sure we got to see it. He also gave seniors an atlas as a parting graduation gift.”
News-Gazette Sports Editor Matt Daniels said he met Cotter in 2011 when the two covered a local high school football game in Westvillle.
Daniels said he would see Cotter over the years at Illinois games, practices and interview sessions. They would chat about sports and Cotter’s family.
“Man, he loved his family,” Daniels said. “Every chance he got, he’d give me an update on what his kids were doing. You could tell how proud he was of all of them. It was there on his face, just like the smile he would always have or the friendly greetings he would exchange.”
Daniels said he always looked forward to to chatting with Cotter. No matter the season or sporting event.
“It could be high up in the press box at Memorial Stadium, with thousands of fans below us. Or it could be on a cold winter’s night at a high school basketball game. Or at a steamy, early summer baseball game,” Daniels said. “If you saw Jim at a sporting event, you knew it was a big deal.”
Funeral services will be at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Flatville. Burial will be in Beckman Cemetery, Thomasboro. Visitation will be from 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Freese Funeral Home, 302 E. Grand Ave., St. Joseph. In honor of Jim, please wear your favorite team’s shirt to the visitation and service.