Roger Ruder has one of the best seats in the house for the NCAA Final Four and national championship, and the Hays native didn’t have to pay a dime for it.
Ruder and his son, Greg, are in attendance not as mere spectators, but essentially participants in one of the biggest events in sports.
Roger is operating the game clock while Greg will run the shot clock for the national semifinals Saturday and the title game Monday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
“It’s going to be a fascinating experience,” Roger Ruder told The Hays Daily News earlier in the week. “It’s not a bucket list thing for me, because a bucket list you can control, to some degree, on getting that.
"With this, there was no way you could control it. It’s going to be fun.”
Roger Ruder grew up in Hays, graduated from Fort Hays State and spent 14 years as a teacher at Thomas More Prep-Marian, also coaching girls basketball and cross country at TMP for seven years. The family relocated to San Antonio in 1986.
The Ruders were given the opportunity to work the Final Four by virtue of being on the table crew for the University of Texas San Antonio basketball games. The NCAA uses the host institution’s table crew for the Final Four.
“I’d like to say it’s just another weekend of basketball, but it’s the Final Four,” said Greg Ruder, who spent the first eight years of his life in Hays. “I just don’t think it quite compares. I’ve been excited all season, knowing this opportunity was coming along.”
With 70,000 fans expected for the games, Roger Ruder is prepared for a surreal experience.
“I’m going to be sitting over on the sideline — and this is going to be my only fan moment — right before the national anthem is played, I’m just going to look around,” he said. “I know at tipoff, when I got to press the green button to start the game, it’s going to be exciting. There’s no question about it.”
Greg Ruder has worked as a scorekeeper for UTSA games for 10 years. When his father retired from teaching in 2014, Greg enlisted him to help on the table crew.
“I had absolutely no knowledge of what that was going to mean and what the potential was,” Roger Ruder said. “I just did it to get out of the house and have some fun because I like basketball.
“It’s pure luck (to work the Final Four). Please don’t get the idea that it was based upon this incredible amount of skill. I was in the right place at the right time, in the right year, in the right situation.”
While Roger will be his working his first NCAA Tournament game, Greg has past tournament experience, working an NCAA regional and sub-regional.
He recalls even getting some TV time when Iowa State faced North Carolina in 2014.
“Iowa State inbounds the ball to half court, runs down the lane and scores a layup with like two seconds left (to take the lead),” Greg Ruder said. “Roy Williams is running down the floor shouting for a timeout. But his players just grab the ball and inbound it and get to about half court, take a shot and miss. Game over.
“The referees get together and they’re standing in front of me. The game was on CBS. On the screen, for about 45 seconds, it was the three refs and me. Me looking at them waiting for them to make a call. In two minutes, I got about 60 text messages from people all over the place.”
The Ruders still have several family members in Hays. Roger’s father, Tony, is a lifetime Ellis County resident.
“I hope maybe he puts his glasses on and watches it, and maybe gets a glimpse of his son and grandson,” he said.
Roger said Hays holds a special place in his heart.
“The Hays that I grew up in, and the Hays that I was starting to raise my children in, is as good of place as there is in the country to raise children,” he said. “It was just a wonderful experience but my wife and I just were looking for something different. But when we come back, we will walk the streets and the memories just wash over us like waterfalls. Hays is a wonderful place.”
The Ruders said they weren’t expecting any anxiousness performing their duties on such a huge stage.
“I don’t want to say we’ve encountered every possible situation that can occur, but a lot of things have gone wonky on us in the past,” Greg said. “We’re a pretty seasoned table crew. Things happen. If you have technical issues, whether the clock’s not working right or the shot clock’s not working right, you just kind of deal with them."
“You get into the flow,” Roger said. “And the referees tell us all the time, ‘Remember, guys, you are officials just like we are. Keep us out of trouble and everybody just do their job and everything’s going to be fine.’ And that’s exactly what’s going to happen.’
“There’s not going to be any nerves. I’m too old for that. I’m 68 years old and the idea of having nerves for that are long gone.”
Roger Ruder said he wanted to give some love to his alma mater during the games.
“I was hoping to sneak in a Fort Hays (item), but I got an email that said you can not wear any insignia from any other school, because the NCAA has all control,” he said.
“I actually got asked, ‘Since you’re from Kansas are you going to be biased?’ And the answer is ‘no,’” said Roger, adding that he is not particularly a KU fan.
“When I go to ballgames I have no rooting interest whatsoever. I just go to watch.”
Roger said he heard lower bowl tickets for the games were going from about $11,000 to $20,000.
“That’s unbelievable,” he said. “I’ve got a $20,000 seat, so I’m not going to screw it up.”
Greg said that working the Final Four in a official capacity immediately makes it one of the top sports experiences in his life.
“This is going to be way, way up there,” Greg said. “It’s the Final Four. How do you beat that?”