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IHSA Announces Eighth Class of Distinguished Media Service Award Winners

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After a two-year hiatus created by the pandemic, the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) is proud to announce its eighth class of recipients of the IHSA Distinguished Media Service Award. The 2022-23 honorees include two legendary Chicagoland sportswriters and a renowned staple of television in Central Illinois.

The 2022-23 honorees include Jeff Bonato, Pat Disabato, and Jim Mattson. Jim Mattson first appeared on the TV airwaves covering sports in Peoria in 1987 and is now approaching four decades in the market. Jeff Bonato is a Lake County legend for his work covering prep sports, while Pat Disabato was a staple of South Suburban and Chicago high school coverage for over 30 years.

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.

“We are excited for the return of the IHSA Distinguished Media Service Award, and what a class of honorees to come back with!” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “Having lived in the Peoria area for much of my life, I know firsthand the impact that Jim Mattson has had on high school sports in the region. His passion is contagious, and he treats every event he covers like the Super Bowl. Jeff Bonato and Pat Disabato are names that fans who follow IHSA sports likely know whether they live in Chicagoland or elsewhere. They really exemplify the community aspect of this honor, as they were fixtures in the schools and areas they covered. When something big happened in high school sports in Lake County or on the Southside, people couldn’t wait to find out what Jeff and Pat had to say about it.”

IHSA member schools submit nominations for the award, with Mattson being nominated by the eight schools who make up the Mid-Illini Conference. Bonato was nominated by Waukegan High School and Warren High School, while Disabato also received nominations from two schools (Eisenhower, Marist).

The IHSA’s media advisory committee, and a veteran committee of retired media members voted on the nominees. 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 2022-23 school year.

“A vital element of this award is the recognition within the community,” said IHSA Assistant Executive Director Matt 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 bio on each of the honorees is below:

JEFF BONATO
Jeff Bonato grew up loving sports, so he says that a career in sportswriting was a “natural” path for him. He recalls developing that passion while listening to Notre Dame and Chicago Bears games on the radio as a kid, as well as becoming a Cubs fans due in large part to his dad working for a company owned by Phil Wrigley. He participated in intramurals at McHenry High School and served as a football team manager there before venturing to DeKalb, where he earned a journalism degree from Northern Illinois University. His career covering prep sports began with the Daily Courier-News in Elgin in 1976 and he moved on to the Lake County News-Sun based in Waukegan in 1983. It was there that Jeff’s name became synonymous with Lake County high school sports, as he served as a writer, copy editor, and sports editor for the News-Sun until his retirement in 2016. He reflects on why his 30 years at the New-Sun was so special, saying “The absolute best part for me was becoming a passionate sports voice for the communities I covered. I could feel the importance of the high school sports teams to communities such as Zion-Benton, Waukegan, North Chicago, Warren, Libertyville, and Lake Villa to name a few. I lived as the newspaper voice of those communities and seeing how much it matters to them made all the positive difference for me.” Jeff mentions the 2003 football state finals as one of the most memorable for him, as Carmel Catholic completed a dominant season with a 6A state championship and Libertyville placed second in 7A. He recalls that the parents from the schools, which are separated by less than two miles, came to each other games to root one another on. He also noted the irony that one his favorite area basketball players growing up was Gerald “King” Coleman, who he would go on to cover and becomes friends with when Coleman became head coach at North Chicago High School. He also fondly recalls a pair of amazing postseason buzzerbeaters by Zion-Benton’s Ronald Steward in 2008 and Waukegan’s Jereme Richmond in 2009. Jeff has been supported throughout his career by his children Bryan, Stefani, and P.J., as well as P.J.’s wife Shira and his three grandchildren Chelsea, Jason, and YaYa.
 
Tenative Award Presentation: December 2 at halftime of Waukegan-North Chicago varsity boys basketball game at Waukegan High School. Presentation begins at approximately 7:35 PM.


PAT DISABATO
Pat Disabato says that by the age of five he knew he wanted to be a professional baseball player or sportswriter. He was fortunate to realize both dreams. Pat starred on the diamond at Eisenhower High School in Blue Island and then at Lewis University, before being drafted by the New York Mets. After his playing days ended, he embarked on a 31-year career as a sportswriter for The Star Newspapers, the SouthtownStar, and Daily Southtown. Pat stepped away from sportswriting in 2021, but he continues to host a local prep sports TV show called The Coach's Corner, a gig he has held for 18 years. Pat is quick to recognize the role his personal and professional support system plays in his success, starting with his wife Erin and daughter Josie. “I have an incredibly supportive wife, which was a must in this crazy industry. I grew up in a very supportive family and wonderful community that set a path for me to achieve a worthwhile career. I also had wonderful colleagues and mentors who brought the best out of my writing skills through the years.” Some of the amazing athletes he covered in his career include Thornton’s Antwaan Randle El and Tai Streets, Thornwood’s Cliff Floyd, Andrew’s Nick Trzesniak and Garrett Jones, Providence’s Carmen Pignatiello and Sam Travis, St. Rita’s Mark Payton, Marist’s Nic Weishar, Mount Carmel’s Alek Thomas, Lincoln-Way’s Cory Paus, and Sandburg’s Zak Kustok. Pat covered countless memorable teams and stories, but two that remain top of mind are the Thornton boys basketball teams that squared off with Peoria Manuel in the state tournament, and Dwyane Wade chartering a plane from Florida to Peoria to watch Richards High School play in the boys basketball state championship game in 2008. A proud alum, he counts Eisenhower’s 1998 playoff victory over Richards among the memorable games he covered as well. Aside from the great athletes and teams, what was his favorite part of the job? “Writing a story that puts a smile on the faces of student-athletes and their families over time,” said Pat. “Additionally, to somehow make an impact that enhances the high school experience for players, their families and their communities.”

Award Presentation: October 20 at halftime of the Eisenhower-Sheppard varsity football game at Eisenhower High School. Presentation begins at approximately 7:45 PM.


JIM MATTSON
A lifelong resident of Morton, Jim Mattson began working in athletics as a student at Morton High School, where he served as a PA announcer after playing basketball as a freshman and sophomore. He went on to earn to his degree from the University of Illinois and returned to Peoria later that year to go to work for WHOI TV. Jim rose to become WHOI’s Sports Director and now holds that title at WEEK TV, which merged with WHOI in 2009. In 2009, he also added radio hosting duties to his resume for ESPN Radio in Peoria where he has hosted a Saturday show for nearly 15 years. “I just love the genuine excitement of sports at the high school level and the amazing support when towns and schools support their high school teams,” said Jim when asked what he enjoys most about covering prep sports. “Excitement” is a fitting word, as Jim was once called “the energizer human” by Bloomington Pantagraph writer Bill Flick, as his broadcasts are known for their high energy and the positivity he exudes on camera. Jim’s reputation for covering so many prep contests, across all sports, led fellow newscaster Donnie Tillman to call Jim “the hardest-working man in Central Illinois.” Jim has covered some special teams along the way, as he cited some perennial state final runs by Peoria Manual boys basketball, Eureka cross country, Washington wrestling, and Morton softball and girls basketball as some of the most memorable of his career. He said he has covered too many great athletes to list them all, but Normal UHIGH volleyball standout Ogonna Nnamani and Peoria High School basketball star Shaun Livingston will always be near the top of his list. Throughout his career, Mattson has been supported by wife Angie and their three daughters Kiruna, Aubrey, and Tyla. His ceremony will be conducted prior to Tyla’s volleyball match for the Potters. “I have always loved covering IHSA sports,” said Jim. “I am just very honored by this recognition.”

Award Presentation: October 4 prior to the Morton-Metamora varsity Girls Volleyball match at Morton High School. Presentation begins at approximately 6:45 PM.





 

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