The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) is proud to announce its fourth class of recipients of the IHSA Distinguished Media Service Award. The 2016-17 honorees include IHSA TV icon Dave Bernhard, a Southern Illinois prep sports staple in WQRL’s Jim Muir and the voice of high school sports in northwest Illinois, Don Werntz of Big Radio in Freeport.
The IHSA Distinguished Media Service Award was created to recognize media members who have covered high school sports and activities in Illinois for a significant period of time, while maintaining perspective on the amateur events they report on.
“Congratulations to an outstanding group of deserving individuals,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “There is certainly a special bond between high school sports and local radio. I know that for former athletes and fans in Northwest Illinois and Southern Illinois, hearing Don (Werntz) or Jim’s (Muir) voice will instantly transport them back to their playing days or an unforgettable game. They are high school sports in Illinois.”
IHSA member schools submitted nominations for the award, with Benton High School (Muir), Durand High School (Werntz), and Lincoln-Way West High School (Bernhard) nominating this year’s honorees.
“Dave Bernhard broadcast my games when I was in high school, so seeing him recognized for his amazing career is really special,” said IHSA Assistant Executive Director Matt Troha. “The Dave Bernhard I watched on TV had an unbridled passion for high school sports that I always admired. Now getting to work closely with him in my current role, it’s rewarding to just how authentic that passion is. When you couple that with a relentless work ethic and an encyclopedic knowledge of high school sports, the result is a legendary broadcaster and career.”
The IHSA’s media advisory committee, and a veteran committee of retired media members voted on each nominee. Those who received the required percentage of votes were named honorees with a limit of one winner per IHSA Board Division. Each winner will be honored at a high school event of their choosing during the 2015-16 school year.
“One of the important parts of this award is the recognition within the community,” said Troha. “We look forward to seeing this year’s winners being recognized in front of the students, coaches and communities they have impacted with their exceptional work.”
A brief bio and information on the award presentation date for each honoree is listed below:
Each March as a student at Beecher High School, Dave Bernhard’s class would watch the IHSA Boys Basketball State Finals on a small TV in the school gym. Dave reflects, saying, “the games were great to see, but I always thought that the luckiest people that I was watching were the announcers of the games. I have become that luckiest person.” Dave has been “lucky” enough to enjoy an expansive career in prep sports, from his time as a high school teacher and baseball coach, to a writer at the Joliet Herald News, broadcasting on WJOL radio and hosting a weekly prep sports cable TV show in the south Chicagoland suburbs. However, the Bradley University alum’s greatest impact has come as the face and voice of the IHSA TV Network. Dave has been broadcasting IHSA State Finals on statewide television since 2000, and has been on the play-by-play call for over 450 state final contests. All told in 37 years, he estimates he has broadcast over 1,200 high school contests and attended over 2,000 as a media member. “There is an energy that is found at high school events that is unlike that of college or professional sports,” said Dave. “The students in the stands are true classmates. They are in the same classes, working on projects together, helping each other with homework, eating lunch together, and now they come together to support their school. The same goes for the athletes.” Whether covering a weekday regular-season game or calling Derrick Rose’s state championship buzzerbeater, Bernhard treats the games the same based on some words of wisdom NFHS Hall of Famer Gordie Gillespie said to him years ago, “Wherever you are at, that is the Major Leagues”.
Award Presentation: Prior to the IHSA Class 4A Baseball State Championship game at Silver Cross Field in Joliet on June 10, 2017.
Few media members are more synonymous with high school sports in Southern Illinois than Jim Muir, and it may be safe to say that no one has enjoyed covering them more than him. “The best way to sum it up is to say that any time anybody saw me with a headset on at a high school sporting event, I loved every second of it. Every single second,” said Jim. The Sesser-Valier High School and Rend Lake College alum will retire as the Sports Director at WQRL radio at the conclusion of the 2016-17 school year after over 25 years and 3,000 broadcasts. He always loved to play sports and compete, but by his own admission, “wasn’t a great athlete”. However, that didn’t diminish his love for high school sports and he always stayed connected any way he could. His broadcast career started on a whim when a friend invited him to co-host a Saturday morning prep sports radio show and as Muir says, “the rest is history.” That history includes expanding the Saturday preps show to two hours and making it year round, extending the station’s coverage to other high schools in the region in addition to Benton High School, and adding girls’ basketball, baseball and softball to the broadcast lineup. During his career, Muir also covered high school sports and wrote columns for the Southern Illinoisan and Benton Evening News. He also published Southern Illinois Sports Connection Magazine for five years. Muir reflects on his career saying, “I just love the atmosphere involved in high school sports, the build-up before a big game. I have been blessed to be a part of so many great games and to have the privilege to watch so many wonderful athletes compete. I’m also thankful to the good folks at WQRL, they gave me an opportunity to expand sports and do some innovative things that nobody else was doing. It’s just been a great ride for me!”
Award Presentation: Benton vs. Sesser-Valier Boys Basketball game at Benton Invitational Tournament on January 20, 2017. Time TBA.
As an 11-year old kid with a broken wrist, Don Werntz got to know local Freeport radio broadcaster Rick Edwards while watching his Little League team and keeping the scoreboard in the press box. Edwards eventually invited a very nervous Werntz to call an inning of play-by-play on the air, and after a successful debut, told Don to come see him for a job when he was older. Don followed through and as a junior at Freeport High School, made $1.65 an hour working for the station. Don had found his calling, as he chose broadcasting over law school after graduating with degrees in Political Science and Radio/TV/Film from Northern Illinois University. Don has spent his entire career in the Northern Illinois market, calling over 2,500 contests in numerous sports, including many state championship winning teams. However, it’s a team that came up short of a title that stands out above the rest. “I have a special place in my heart for the Freeport Pretzel basketball team in 1973-74 that went 28-2 and advanced to Super-Sectional. That was the first year I had an opportunity to broadcast games on the radio, and it was also my senior year at Freeport High School. So it was literally ‘my team’ with my own classmates and friends. Not many people have the opportunity to do that.” As Don approaches 45 years on the air waves in Freeport, the 2013 Illinois Basketball Coaches Association (IBCA) Hall of Fame inductee’s reason for coming back year after year remains the same. “The people. I have met so many interesting players, coaches and fans over the last 43 years. Many of whom have become lifelong friends.”
Award Presentation: TBD 2016 IHSA Football Playoff Game.