Former Daily Herald High School Sports Editor John Radtke dies at 66

Former Daily Herald High School Sports Editor John Radtke died overnight Friday at his home in Sarasota, Florida, at age 66.

Radtke started writing for the Daily Herald in 1995 as a high school sports freelancer before being hired by the Daily Herald in 1997. For two decades he was the Daily Herald’s assistant sports editor/Fox Valley sports, in charge of local sports coverage for the Elgin area, and added the title online prep sports manager in 2008. He became high school sports editor in 2018, guiding the newspaper’s high school sports coverage through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“High school sports has lost a larger-than-life advocate and friend,” said former Daily Herald High School Sports Editor Aaron Gabriel, who hired Radtke and whom Radtke succeeded in that role. “John’s passion for local sports coverage was unmatched. His background made him uniquely qualified to further the Daily Herald’s expansion into the Fox Valley and beyond. But truly, his presence benefitted all corners of local sports journalism. Over time, he upped the ante for everyone.”

“As a friend, you could count on John to tell it like it is. I always felt like he was like a character out of a Richard Russo novel — gritty, direct. Artfully resilient. Over time, the two of us developed our own special mode of communication, with certain nuanced words anchoring everything so that only the two of us could completely understand the full context of a conversation. He was one of a kind.”

Radtke retired in 2022.

“Today, I lost my best friend,” said former Daily Herald Sports Writer Mike Miazga. “We had a unique but tremendously impactful decades-long friendship that didn't require frequent calls or visits or texts.

“John was one of a kind. There will never be another one like him. Professionally, I will forever be indebted to him for giving me my first full-time newspaper/media break. I learned so much from him, especially what establishing real 1-on-1 relationships meant. At the end of the day, statistics and players come and go, but those relationships live on well after that.”

Before joining the Daily Herald, Radtke worked for the DeKalb Daily Chronicle and Elgin Courier-News, where he won a Copley Ring of Truth award for his reporting in 1989 on an Elgin teachers strike.

In 2014 he received the Illinois High School Association’s Distinguished Media Service Award. He won the Daily Herald Editorial Excellence Award in 2010.

Radtke was an early and passionate advocate for covering girls sports in the newspaper. He followed girls volleyball, girls basketball and softball especially closely, and for many years he was president, owner and general manager of the Northern Illinois Lightning Fastpitch Softball travel program based in Elgin.

After his retirement he wrote an occasional Sports column for the Daily Herald until last fall.

“There's few if any people I've met in nearly 30 years of working at the Daily Herald who care as much about high school sports as John Radtke,” current Daily Herald High School Sports Editor John Lemon said. “He had a passion for promoting and highlighting all the achievements by so many high school athletes. He especially was an advocate for softball, girls volleyball and girls basketball, and to see how much those sports have flourished through the years with more and more girls involved always pleased John. He was a mentor for me who I will miss greatly.”

Daily Herald's John Radtke talks to the crowd at Burlington Central High School after being presented with the IHSA Distinguished Media Service Award by Scott Johnson, Assistant Executive Director of the IHSA Saturday night. Radtke is a 1975 alum of the school. Daily Herald file, 2014

A 1975 graduate of Burlington Central High School, Elgin Community College and Judson College in Elgin, Radtke was inducted into the BC Athletics Hall of Fame in 2014. He joined the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame media wing in 2003, and he was named Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association Media Person of the Year in 2006. He was inducted into the Elgin Sports Hall of Fame in 2022.

"It was rare if more than a week went by that I didn't talk to John. I'm profoundly sad to think that'll never happen again,“ said former Daily Herald Sports Editor Mike Smith. ”He spent much of his working life writing stories about high school sports, coaching softball and talking about Burlington Central athletics, and I don't know that anything made him happier other than his family and friends.

“He will always remain one of the good ones."

“He was an institution when it came to high school sports and specifically sports in the Elgin/Fox Valley area,” Miazga added. “John impacted thousands of student-athletes and their families through not only his written word but, more importantly, through his genuine, regular-guy persona. I've never met a harder-working or more real, down-to-earth human being.”

Scott Johnson, Assistant Executive Director of the IHSA, left, presents Daily Herald's John Radtke with the IHSA Distinguished Media Service Award at the Burlington Central High School boys basketball game Saturday. Daily Herald file, 2014

Radtke was a big fan of University of Iowa sports. He also was a devoted Christian.

Radtke had been in poor health recently and had just returned home following two months in a Tampa hospital and a Sarasota rehabilitation facility.

Radtke is survived by a brother, Paul, of Sycamore, and a sister, Dawn, who lives in North Carolina. He was preceded in death by his parents.

No details are available yet regarding services.

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