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In December 2005, a young, raw part-time NewsTribune sports writer/IVCC student was assigned by his editor to write a story on the history of Hall’s Colmone Classic.
Unsure who to contact and the approach to take, the young buck went to then-Hall athletic director Gary Vicini seeking information. Upon discovering Vicini didn’t have the facts he desired, Vicini suggested contacting Lanny Slevin.
“He’s been to all the tournaments over the years,” Vicini said at the time.
I was flabbergasted.
Me? Contact Lanny? Lanny Slevin? From WLPO? The legend? The voice of the valley? The guy I idolized as a kid? Who knows everything? And everyone? Am I allowed to contact him? Or look him in the eye? Or say his name? Am I really that worthy?
A few hours later, realizing I had no choice, I sucked up my fear and made one terrifying call.
Voice trembling, I asked the lady who answered the phone to speak to Lanny — the Lanny Slevin! Upon his hello, I nervously told the longtime radio voice who I was and why I was calling.
After intently listening, Lanny suggested something I never expected.
“What time do you get out of school?” he said.
“Well, it’s finals week at IVCC, so around 11 a.m. or so,” I replied.
“Perfect,” he said. “Come on over then and we can sit down and talk, and you can look at all the information I have.”
I was stunned.
Lanny — a somebody — inviting me — a nobody — to the radio station?
I spent nearly an hour talking with Lanny, who had souvenir programs from every Colmone Classic to that date. The information I collected from our conversation provided the basis of my story.
It also started a friendship.
I have talked to Lanny hundreds of times since — over the phone, in person and even broadcasting a game together on the radio — but what always stuck with me was what Lanny did for a young sports writer that December day.
Thing is, I know I’m far from the only person he’s helped in his 40 years at WLPO. He’s consistently made people feel welcomed and appreciated.
That’s what makes him so special to so many people.
That’s what makes him Lanny.
He’s the best people person I’ve ever met. He’s the most likeable guy I know. Everyone loves Lanny. He has this special way of making you feel important and an uncanny ability to relate to anyone at any school in any sport regardless of age.
If I end up being half the man and half the professional he is, I’ll be one happy sports writer.
I know I don’t work with or talk to Lanny as much as others — like longtime radio partner Rick Sipovic as well as Mike Brown and Joel Gerdovich — but I do know one thing for certain: the area is losing one great man. He has the most recognizable voice in the Illinois Valley sports scene, but his attitude, actions and love for the games made him the most important person in the Illinois Valley sports scene.
After 27-plus years of listening to Lanny, I volunteered for this column and for the two other stories.
As the person on this staff who is the Illinois Valley native and who has the longest relationship with Lanny, I felt it was only right to send him off the same way he treated everyone else: with respect and honor and the biggest loving caring smile you’ve ever seen.
Lanny, I hope you visit the kids and grandkids often, see the sites you aspire to see, finish the projects that are undone, read the literature you’ve put off and that you aren’t a stranger to us in the NewsTribune sports department.
I wish you nothing but the best and — for everyone you’ve reached and inspired over the past 40 years — want to say thanks for all you have given us.
God bless, enjoy retirement and, most importantly, know it won’t be the same without you.
Jared Bell is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6938, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.