John Radtke had a passion for youth sports starting at a young age.
"I remember a Little League game in Burlington where John struck out looking," said Scott Hoffmeister, a 1977 graduate of Burlington Central High School. "He pleaded his case to the umpire for all it was worth. It was the most dramatic thing. When I think about John, I think about that night."
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That passion for youth sports continued to grow over the years as Radtke embarked on a sports writing career that now is in its fifth decade. Radtke, the Daily Herald's Fox Valley sports editor and a 17-year veteran of the company, joined Hoffmeister, five other individuals and the 2003 Central football team Sunday night as the newest inductees into the Central Athletic Hall of Fame.
Radtke, a 1975 graduate of Central, was inducted as a friend of Central athletics. He's only the second individual to earn that honor, joining Ralph Seyller (who started the Burlington Boys Club in 1945) in that elite group.
The Class of 2014 was honored during a ceremony at Elgin Community College with Radtke's induction being kept a surprise. The tireless advocate of youth sports was again the master of ceremonies for the event and was informed of his induction during the ceremony.
"John is even more than a friend to Central athletics," said longtime Central Athletics and Activities Administrative Assistant Jan Maas. "Here at Central we have a lot of alumni who care about the school. He's one of the old-school alumni. People say they bleed blue and white, he really does. John is such a special person."
Retired Lily Lake Grade School Principal and current Central freshman baseball coach Lloyd Stover, also a Central graduate, recalled Radtke's fondness of sports during their time at the school (Stover is two years older than Radtke), particularly when it came to announcing athletic contests.
"John is a real Central success story," he said. "He was involved in everything. He was the voice of the Central Rockets in the middle 70s. We had announcers before then, but everybody got to know his voice. John has come so far from where he started. John deserves every bit of recognition he is getting. He writes very timely and very good stories about the players and coaches. He's very knowledgeable. He does it real justice when he writes a story on a game."
But while he may have an extreme fondness for his alma mater, Radtke has maintained a high level of objectivity when it comes to the sports and athletes he has covered dating back to the start of his career in the mid-1970s at the DeKalb Chronicle.
"I know he pulls for us. It's his school," said longtime Central softball coach Wade Maisto, who coached Radtke's sister, Dawn, on the varsity girls' basketball team at the school. "But he's impartial and fair as a reporter. He's been such a great supporter of high school athletics. He puts such a positive spin on things."
While Radtke has chronicled every sport from badminton to wrestling, his expertise lies with girls' sports, particularly basketball and softball. Radtke is regarded by many as the dean of girls basketball and softball reporters in the Chicago area.
Central boys track coach Mike Schmidt, a 1987 graduate of Central and a classmate of Radtke's sister, saw that expertise when he took over as Central's head girls basketball coach in 1996.
"I always kind of knew John, but I really got to know him in 1996 when I took the Central girls job," said Schmidt. "He's a great advocate for girls sports. That passion certainly goes back to when Dawn was playing at Central. John does a great job not with just girls sports, but with all sports, including the sports such as track and wrestling that maybe aren't the higher-profile ones."
Former Central boys basketball coach Dave Gilliland, now the superintendent and high school principal at Stockton CUSD 206, appreciated Radtke's dedication to his craft during his time at Central.
"He put the time and the work in," said Gilliland, who also now officiates high school basketball games and did a Central boys basketball game at Genoa earlier in the school year. "John seemed like he was everywhere. It didn't matter where the game was he was everywhere. He had a true passion for covering high school athletics, which is what it takes. It was true passion."
Schmidt referred to Radtke as Central's "resident historian."
"Certainly in sports and everything else, too," he said. "He knows so much about the history and can talk about people who were here in the 60s and 70s because he grew up around it. He's a great person to tell you about all the people and do the comparisons of all the great athletes we've had here and how they all stack up."
Radtke, who also runs the successful Northern Illinois Lightning travel softball program that has grown exponentially in size and prominence over the years, also was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame media wing in 2003.
"Nobody deserves this honor more," said Bob Frisk, the Daily Herald's retired assistant managing editor/sports and another legendary champion of high school athletics. "He's Mr. Fox Valley. Everybody knows this guy. He is a consummate professional covering high school sports. John does everything first class.He's done so much for high-school athletics and for the Daily Herald."
In addition to Radtke, Hoffmeister and the 2003 Central football team coached by Dave Smith, Vicki Braden, Michele (Butt) Domson, Dan Hagberg, Brian Krantz and Darrel Dean Westerbeck also were inducted in Sunday's ceremony.