Minnesota Native has “Pickled” A New Career Path
Sometimes life will change the direction you think you’re going, and that’s the case for Minnesota native Jon Laaser. Jon is someone folks here may remember, from his time working for KFAN in Minneapolis or even his time as a sports broadcaster in St. Cloud.
In 2015 Jon was hired as the Director of Broadcasting and Play-By-Play Voice of the Virginia Tech Hokies. That’s where I first came to know him, one of the stations I worked for was a Virginia Tech affiliate. I was the Radio Voice for James Madison University and hosted a local/regional sports show and Jon was a weekly guest during football and basketball seasons.
On January 3rd, 2022, Jon announced he was resigning immediately from Virginia Tech. His statement at the time credited a desire to help people through mental health advocacy since the death of his father in 2019. I caught up with Jon last week about what he's up to lately.
After leaving Virginia Tech, Jon and his wife Renee started a Non-Profit Organization called “Laaser's Lady Bugs Society” which raises money for Mental Health Initiatives in Public Schools through athletic events. Pickleball tournaments became their most successful events.
The Pickleball events caught the attention of a group called Performance Pickleball, they approached Jon, and he is now the COO of that group which is in the middle of opening an indoor/outdoor Pickleball facility in RVA (Richmond Virginia).
Jon says a lot of his time is spent working with “PPBRVA” but that some of the events will benefit the Ladybugs. PPBRVA is about 5 weeks from opening their facility, so a lot of the attention has been spent on the final details that need to be completed for that opening.
Why Mental Health? Jon Laaser says “it’s a story with a lot of layers” but he has struggled with low grade depression his whole life and his wife Renee has faced anxiety over her life. So, the Ladybugs are very much a personal quest for both of them.
In the fall of 2019, Jon’s dad passed away here in Minnesota. Dr. Mark Laaser founded “Faithful and True”, a faith-based counseling center which helps people navigate addiction and other challenges of mental health. Jon’s mom Debbie still is the Co-Founder and still works actively with the center.
In 2020 the pandemic hit, which caused everyone some anxiety. Jon and Renee were quarantined in Blacksburg Virginia during this time, which gave them plenty of time to think and talk about the future.
Jon’s signature Touchdown call for The Hokies was “there’s nothing in front of him but clean mountain air” and that became a slogan that was put on a T-Shirt with the proceeds going to “Mental Health America”. Those shirts sold well, they sold out in fact, twice. Jon says thousands of dollars were donated through the two T-Shirt drives. Then the focus shifted to the Student Athlete Psychology Department at Virginia Tech to benefit the student athletes there.
At about that same time Tech’s Football Team was struggling and there were many questions around the status of the Coaching staff. Jon and I had numerous conversations on my sports show about this, each time me telling him, “I need/have to ask about this again,” and each time he would answer in the best way possible.
If you think it’s rough on you as a fan when your team is losing, you should be a broadcaster who, like Jon and myself, were close to their respective teams (players and coaches) and see how hard they work and how the losing weighs on them and you.
Jon says there was never a good time to leave a team as a broadcaster, but combining his father's passing, the pandemic and then the football coaching staff being let go, it seemed to be as good a time as there would be to make the change.
“Your algorithm in life becomes so centric to what to you are doing and ours had become Virginia Tech and we had to get back outside of that to remember that I had worked for 7 different baseball teams over 7 years, getting my start at KFAN in Minneapolis. I had wonderful years there in St. Cloud with the media group I’m glad you’re at now, and those people wanted to get involved”.
Jon says the support of “Laaser's Ladybug Society” has been wonderful and has now led him to the dual role with Performance Pickleball RVA.
The new facility in Virginia is based on “Lucky Shots” in Minneapolis that Jon visited last year. “It’s become this massive thing” Jon says of PPBRVA that will feature a lot of amenities for the players to enjoy.
Sometimes it’s hard making changes when life’s road turns in a different direction, but for Jon and Renee this change is one they have welcomed. Mental Health Advocacy and Pickleball have become passions for them, and they’ve found a way for one to serve the other.
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