Over his 40 years at WLPO, Lanny Slevin has seen a little bit of everything.
Slevin has called sporting events for almost every school in the area, did the IHSA Sports Report for nearly six years, broadcast the IHSA boys basketball state tournaments for 35 years, called IVCC football games for approximately 20 years and has recorded every score of every area boys basketball game — including all NCIC, Tri-County and Three Rivers teams — since he started in 1973, in addition to keeping every souvenir program from every tournament he’s covered.
During his 40 years at WLPO, Slevin estimates he’s called somewhere between 3,500-4,000 sporting events, and before his last day today, Slevin discussed some of the area’s best events and athletes from his time.
NewsTribune: What was it like to call the state boys basketball tournament?
Lanny Slevin: I don’t know if I would call it the highlight of my career, but doing the state tournament was a thrill — getting to see the players you eventually saw in the NBA. There were people like (St. Joseph’s guard and future Detroit Piston) Isiah Thomas and (Chicago King and University of Illinois star) Marcus Liberty. It just goes on and on. You get overwhelmed with names. (East St. Louis star and NBA player) Darius Miles, (Chicago Farragut and NBA star) Kevin Garnett — for all of them, I covered their games. I look at the 100th anniversary book the IHSA came out with and starting in 1972 — with the two-class system — I can look at the pictures and scores and names and say, ‘What do all these have in common?’ I broadcast every one of their names, every one of their games in the state tournament.
NT: Who’s the best player you covered during your career at WLPO?
Slevin: That’s a hard question. You always have a tendency to see what they did afterwards and say, ‘Hey, J.A. Happ must’ve been great’ or in football you might say, ‘I covered (Mike) Goff regularly and he went on to become an all-pro player.’ Or (former NFL quarterback) Chuck Long when Wheaton North played L-P in football.
I am going to say — and this may surprise you — if I have to start a basketball team and I get the No. 1 pick and I have to pick five players in 40 years, the player I would start with is (Peoria Manual and Illinois graduate) Sergio McClain. The reason is he is the best high school player I’ve ever seen. He wasn’t the best college or pro player I saw, but in high school he was the coach on the floor and he was brought up that way by his dad, Wayne (McClain)… When Sergio McClain was on the floor, his dad didn’t have to worry about what was going to happen next. He was the ‘Warrior’ and he was the hardest-working player when he was on the floor. He was the most fun to watch because he could play any position. He knew exactly where everybody else was, exactly what kind of offense they should be in if the other team goes to a trap or something else. He knew exactly what was going on from his freshman year on.
NT: Who’s the best local basketball player you covered?
Slevin: That’s hard, too, because you’re always going to leave somebody out. I will tell you, the best athlete I covered was (L-P graduate and current L-P girls basketball coach) Hollis Vickery. He actually went to (Chaminade University of Hawaii) on a basketball scholarship, and I think he scored more points at IVCC in one game — like 52 or 54 — than anyone in history. He could stuff it or take it out and shoot it.
NT: What was your favorite non-Illinois Valley school to visit?
Slevin: Well, then that’s not counting (Ottawa’s) Kingman Gym — which was my favorite gym — and you’re not counting (L-P’s) Howard Fellows Stadium, which is my favorite stadium.
I would say there are two in basketball which jump out: there’s Wharton Field House in Moline and the MetroCentre in Rockford. I say them both because Wharton is old and has the quality of the old gyms and is like a game I would go to as a kid in the Armory in Peoria watching Bradley or the Caterpillar Cats. The MetroCentre in Rockford became my favorite place because the Class AA super-sectionals were always so good. Rock Island’s Duncan Reid coached against Rockford Boylan’s Steve Goers (who coached L-P from 1974-77) more often than not. Or Galesburg brings in a team coached by Mike Miller who finished second in the state. … That’s the reason why the MetroCentre games stand out is because of the tremendous ability of the athletes and the remarkable coaching and play of the teams.
NT: Do you have any favorite stories from over the years?
Slevin: There are a lot of them. A few are some of the broadcast locations. At the time they maybe weren’t funny, but when you think about them now they are. I think about doing the IVCC football game outside in a rain storm at Joliet Stadium. They wouldn’t let us in the press box because the Joliet boosters and administrators and coaches and their media had to get in the press box, so we stood outside in the rain. We had a piece of plastic that came down over us and in the third quarter the plastic blew over the back of the stadium so we finished the game in a driving rain storm. Our equipment was wrapped in plastic, but we were drowned gnats.
I remember doing games from the Triton sideline, where the phone lines were instead of the press box — and this was before cell phones. I had to stand on the Triton bench and broadcast the game, much to the glee of the Triton players who kept yelling, ‘Hey, Howard Cosell is here. Look at this, guys. We have radio!’
I remember broadcasting a playoff football game from a ladder under the Princeville press box where I had to hold on with one arm. There was no room for me in the press box, and I had to get high enough where I could see the field, but every time somebody had to go in or out of the press box I had to go down the ladder, stand on the ground and come back up on the ladder. You look at those things now like, ‘How did you broadcast that game?’
I broadcast a game from scaffolding at Thornton where you couldn’t step back because you might fall off.
Another story from the road is with (radio partner Rick Sipovic). It was getting dark and we were driving up Route 52 to Dixon. Just as we were coming over a crest, we looked out and there was a cow in the middle of the highway in our lane. I wasn’t real concerned until I saw there was a car behind us, probably a half mile away. The closer I got, I started honking and honking and realized the cow wasn’t going to move. It just stood there, chewing and looking at us with a blank stare. I had to stop even though I was honking. I didn’t want to go out and try to push it. Then I started thinking about the car behind me so I put on my hazard lights and it stopped behind me. I eventually said to Sip, ‘Do I have enough room to get around him?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, probably.’ So I put it in reverse and started to go around him when it finally walked real slowly off the side of the road.
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.