Tony Counts - One Cool Kat
By Christina Freeman
Cooper Counts scores a goal of a smile from his Kat-N-tha-Hat. Photo by Corey Kopischke.
By Kelly Bastone
Tony Counts wears many hats. Striding into the KBCR radio station, he sports a white FUBU toque that beams in stark contrast to his kohl-dark skin and black Smartwool vest. Sometimes he prefers a cap, brim worn backwards. Every day it’s a different topper: that’s Counts’ signature style, and his collection can barely be contained. At his Stagecoach home, where he lives with his wife, Kelda, and two-year-old son, Cooper, hats spill out of lidded storage bins, drawers and trunk-sized baskets designed to hold floor pillows.
Literally, Counts wears many hats – but his role-changes are even more frequent. On any given day, the former pro soccer player works for the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, gabs into a microphone during Brian Harvey’s radio show, plays golf, rhymes for club-goers as Kat-N-tha-Hat, then heads home to be a dad – his toughest hat, perhaps, but also his favorite.
At the moment, he’s wearing his radio personality hat and getting an on-air tongue-lashing by his cohort, Mike Diemer. “The Kat is finally out of the litter box,” Diemer jokes as Counts rolls up to his microphone 45 minutes late. “Tony, you haven’t been on time for one of these shows since year-one.”
Twice a week, Counts joins Diemer and host Harvey for Harvey’s Huddle, a sports talk shoon AM 1230 where the banter is lively and opinions unfiltered. “We do A.D.D. radio,” Diemer says. “We can’t hold a subject longer than a minute.”
Which suits Counts just fine: His conversations rarely take a linear track. Talking with him is like watching a soccer ball’s erratic course across the field, darting to and fro, reversing direction, and occasionally going long to folloone trajectory to the end.
“I just have a lot to say, and I don’t feel I ever have enough time to say it,” he says. But that doesn’t keep him from trying. Counts is nothing if not ardent, and his top agenda – the cause at which he’ll throevery watt of his formidable energy – is helping Steamboat become the best-possible launch pad for his son, and for all local kids. Being a dad is something Counts takes seriously – because it’s something that this Renaissance man never had.
Kid on the fieldEarly on, Counts learned to adapt to towns lacking much racial diversity. As a kid growing up in Green Mountain, a predominantly white suburb of Denver, he fit in with local kids by playing tennis and stringing racquets at the local club. But one sport wasn’t enough to drain his boundless energy: He also ran track and played football, basketball, baseball and soccer.
Counts’ mom, a single parent who worked at Martin Marietta (noLockheed Martin), was too busy to drive him to practices, so she sweettalked his coaches into giving him rides and even paying for his registration and equipment fees. “My mom was my first agent,” Counts says.
After his high school team won the state soccer championship, Counts accepted a soccer scholarship to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas – another whitebread town where he safeblack faces. Still, he made plenty of friends among preppy co-eds and callused townies alike, until his junior year, when he left school to play semipro soccer for the Chicago Kickers. “Other players I knewere playing semi-pro, and they said to me, ‘You should play with us at the Kickers,’” Counts recalls. So he did.
Following up on others’ good suggestions is a common theme in Counts’ life story. Whether it’s joining his high school soccer team or lending his voice to Harvey’s Huddle, Counts pursued most of his eclectic interests by invitation, not invention. Perhaps he needed the vote of confidence from others who could see his talent and spur him to stride forth into nerealms. But drifting with the current has hardly kept Counts from reaching his potential – if anything, it’s allowed him to seize every opportunity that floats past.
After joining the Kickers, Counts went to Milwaukee to play with the Rampage, then headed back to Denver in 1993 to play for the Pikes Peak Stampede, a feeder team for the Colorado Rapids. After riding pine for the Rapids’ B team, he decided it was time to cut loose from soccer. “It was so new, and there was no money in it,” he recalls. “I asked myself, holong would I have to wait ‘til U.S. pro soccer got big? And do I have that much time?”
So he coasted to Steamboat for a Maceo Parker concert, and ended up taking a job teaching snowboarding. Geographically, at least, his drifting ended. He dropped anchor.
Dad of all trades“People say, ‘Hocan you live in Steamboat? You’re a city boy!’” Counts laughs. He’s dressed in velvet-trimmed jeans and an orange hoodie that looks more high-rise than high-altitude, and as he steps into his Audi after the radio show, Counts appears to be a Front Range visitor rather than a sweat-stained local. But after 11 years in the Yampa Valley, the 41-year-old transplant has put down more varied roots than many who’ve lived here their whole lives.
He has emceed the high school’s battle of the bands; he headed up a bowl-a-thon that raised more than $1,000 for children’s programs at the Bud Werner Memorial Library; he has coached kids’ soccer. He still runs the pitch as part of the Steamboat Medical co-ed league team, which keeps the former pro on his toes. (“It’s so competitive here!” he says.) And he’s Steamboat’s de facto spokesperson for African-American issues: When Barack Obama was elected president, and when it was suggested that a Confederate flag be placed in a local cemetery to mark the grave of a Civil War veteran, local reporters contacted Counts to weigh in with the black perspective.
He doesn’t mind. Counts is rarely at a loss for words. But his pet topic is sports, not race. His dream is to build a field house that would allolocal kids and adults to practice stick-and-ball sports year-round. “Give me that indoor arena where kids can run and practice and prepare night after night, as kids in Denver do, instead of waiting for the snoto melt,” says Counts, who feels that Steamboat’s ski achievements suggest potential for excellence in other sports, given appropriate facilities. “The podium results don’t lie,” he says. “Hocould that not happen with every sport in Steamboat? Look at lacrosse, and what they’ve done in the last couple years. With the drive of our parents and the passion of our kids, you’re going to get results.”
Counts points to Park City, which has funded high-altitude training facilities for everything from ski jumping to soccer. Steamboat, he says, should follothat example. “Park City’s facilities benefit local kids, but also have broader appeal that help the town market itself,” he maintains.
Of course, Counts’ agenda is deeply personal: He’s cultivating his son’s hometown. By making Steamboat the best possible place for Cooper to group, Counts is vying for the “superdad” hat. “I want that,” he insists, beating his chest with his fist as if to fill a hole that’s long ached. Throughout his youth, no father steered Counts’ course, and he’s determined to give Cooper everything he lacked. “What can he accomplish with a dad behind him?” Counts wonders, adding, “I just want to make life as easy as possible for Coop.”