Reporter sports editor honored with HOF selection


By BRANDON LaCHANCE

Staff writer

MENDOTA – When Kip Cheek took a job with The Mendota Reporter in 1984 he didn't know what it would bring.

Or what it would lead to.

Thirty-eight years have gone by and it has led to thousands – maybe millions – of fantastic stories, long-term friends, a family, and calling Mendota home.

His professional work ethic and journalistic ability escalated further when he was named to the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Class of 2023.

"I usually watch Hall of Fame ceremonies of professional sports, and quite often those being inducted refer to it as the pinnacle of their career. Well, now I know how they feel," Cheek said. "It’s incredible to realize that all of the games attended, the athletes and coaches covered, the miles traveled and the long hours put in after the games have ended has resulted in being selected to the IBCA Hall of Fame.

"It definitely shows my age, but it’s mind-boggling to be covering athletes now whose parents I covered when they were in high school. I’m sure longevity has something to do with my selection into the Hall of Fame, but I’d also like to think that I have provided our readers with the best possible coverage of their local athletes and teams all of these years."

He has covered many beats for the Reporter, but sports has always been his favorite as he is a Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Rams fan.

He can tell you stories of the good and the bad, but he's made a living on recalling the good.

"Thirty-eight plus years have gone by so quickly. I can still see Mark Cooper stealing a pass and going in for a would-be dunk at the Plano Christmas Classic in 1986. And then several months later seeing that same group become the first Mendota High School team to advance to the Sweet Sixteen in DeKalb was an incredible experience. I was also there for Mendota’s first trip to the Elite Eight in Champaign back in 1989," Cheek said. "The Trojans followed that up with another Elite Eight appearance in 1993, and then of course the 1996 team, which was the first to play in Peoria when the tournament was moved there from Champaign. I still say to this day that Mendota and Shelbyville were the two best teams in the state that year. It’s unfortunate that they had to meet in the quarterfinals.

"Then on the girls’ side, back-to-back state tournament appearances by the Lady Trojans in 1998 and 1999 was amazing to witness, capped off by a fourth-place finish in ’99. And more recently, it was a joy to watch the Bromenschenkel twins (Abby and Alli) on their tremendous two-year run when they led Mendota to a 51-8 record over their junior and senior years."

Throughout his career, he's left a lasting impact on many people in the community.

Jeff Prusator, Mendota High School Superintendent who is retiring after this school year, met Cheek at the very beginning of his career at MHS when he accepted the assistant principal role 27 years ago.

"When I came to Mendota 27 years ago, my first week at the school, Kip did a story because Bob Atherton was promoted from assistant principal to principal and I was coming in as the new assistant," said Prusator. "That was the first time I met Kip. I still remember to this day, Bob Atherton saying, 'Kip's a good guy. He's one of the good ones.' Kip got off to a good start with that, but even back then, Bob had a lot of respect for the work that Kip did."

"There is no question that the work that he does is hall of fame work. People do get in hall of fames because of longevity, but that only doesn't do it. There are a lot of people who have worked for decades and are not in the hall of fame. It's a combination of putting some time in, surviving, and the quality of people they are and the quality of work that they do.

"There is no question that Kip is a hall of famer and he very well deserves this honor."

Getting back to Cheek recalling the good stories, his readers do, too.

Prusator said Cheek's ability to focus on the good is one of the main reasons he was chosen for the IBCA Hall of Fame.

"What I appreciate about the articles Kip puts in the paper, for high school sports, they are 100 percent about the kids and the kids in a positive light. I've never read an article where he was negative toward an athletic event, a coach, or an athlete, which is awesome in a small town," Prusator said. "Another thing I believe, but I hope I'm wrong, is the Kip Cheeks and the Kevin Hieronymuses, these people who spend most of their career in small communities, isn’t going to happen very often.

"I think Kip probably, unfortunately, is under-appreciated by a lot of people about the work that he does and the quality of work that he does, and how he's a promoter of Mendota High School. We appreciate it here at the high school, but I'm not sure if the community has a full appreciation for everything Kip has done throughout his 38 years."

Kevin Hieronymus has appreciated Cheek for many decades.

Meeting in the first grade at Atlanta (Illinois) Grade School, being teammates through grade school, junior high, and high school, rooming together at Illinois State University, and being the best man at each other's wedding, they got to know each other closely.

"It's a very deserving honor for him. We've crossed paths many times while working Princeton and Mendota games," said Hieronymus, who has been employed by the Bureau County Republican since 1986. "We help each other out with photos, scores, and stats. It is pretty sweet to have him in the hall of fame. We grew up a half a block away from each other. We pursued the same path. To wind up in the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame together is perfect.

"He's been around a long time, but he's done top-notch work that people are looking for. From Year 1 until now, he's given his readers a hall of fame product."

When asking around, there was only one bad thing said about Cheek.

It was from his buddy, Hieronymous, a St. Louis Cardinals fan: "The only bad thing about Kip is that he's a Chicago Cubs fan."

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