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Vol. 58, No. 2 • February 2021 • .pdf version
Tate: A half-century covering Illinois
By DAVID WOODS
Loren Tate, 89 is both a man from another time and a journalist ahead of his time.
He has followed University of Illinois sports since the 1940s and continues to cover the Fighting Illini into the 2020s. Decades before we had multimedia journalists and recruiting reporters, Tate was both.
He was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame in 1974. He is going into the USWBA Hall of Fame in 2021. Who ever heard of anyone going into halls of fame 47 years apart? A street, Loren Tate Way, was named after him near The News-Gazette's former downtown offices.
I grew up in Urbana, Ill., delivering newspapers. Before placing rubber bands around them so I could throw them onto porches, I would read his account of the previous day's game or his "Tatelines" column.
He hired me out of high school and started my own 50-year journalism career. The 17-year-old was in awe of him then, and now. That old newsroom was my classroom.
I learned more about journalism from watching Tate than from anyone else. I wasn't the only one.
"In terms of being a sportswriter, some of the best stuff I gleaned was from Loren," said Tom Rietmann, a longtime colleague in Champaign-Urbana and Indianapolis.
Tate, at 35, became sports editor in 1966 in Champaign-Urbana, which then had competing newspapers. He was sports director of WICD-TV from 1968-79. He semi-retired in 1996. Emphasis on "semi." He has continued covering the Illini on radio and by writing columns. Most of his writing awards have come while in his 80s.
In those early years, he wrote, writing something negative about the Illini never occurred to him.
His allegiance was understandable. He was an Illini basketball walk-on who roomed in a fraternity with Don Sunderlage, the 1951 Big Ten player of the year.
Tate tried out for the Illini baseball team but didn't make the cut. His response to that setback was to go on to a long career in amateur baseball. He pitched three no-hitters in the Eastern Illinois League and compiled a 91-14 record from 1958-62.
He reported to Champaign in 1966 for his new job. Months later, he was covering Illinois' slush fund scandal.
"I began to understand what my role in life was to be ... not a jock playing ball, not a cheerleader," Tate wrote. "It meant walking the tightrope and becoming more of a critic, a writer paid for observations and opinions."
Basketball has been central to Tate's career. He selected all-state teams and covered Illini hoops through declines and ascents, scandals and Final Fours, and 10 head coaches – from Harry Combes to Brad Underwood.
When other outlets reported in 1975 that Don DeVoe would become the Illini coach, only Tate had it right. Assistant Tony Yates wouldn't identify the new coach, but he assured him it wasn't DeVoe. Turned out to be Lou Henson.
In 1988, Tate uncovered corruption by athletic director Neale Stoner, a finding that resulted in Stoner's resignation and an APSE award.
"Don't ask me how much I made per hour," Tate said in 2014. "I never once counted the hours I worked."
Nor the years. He has been voice and conscience of the Illini for longer than a half-century.
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