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Dan Eilts (left) and Jeremy Aitken broadcast Ottawa football games for WLWF-FM 96.5. After working for the Ottawa Times for nearly three decades, Eilts compiled all-time Ottawa stats in football and basketball and continues to serve as the statistician for Pirate events. He also co-founded the Ottawa Hall of Fame. Submitted Photo
As a child, Dan Eilts was an avid baseball card collector.
Looking back, Eilts figures that hobby is the root of his interest in statistics and sports that sent him on his way to being a sports writer, and now a statistician for Ottawa High School.
“From about ’57-’65, I have about 75 percent of all cards — mostly Topps,” Eilts said. “I still have 90 percent of them. I’d memorize when the players were born, where they were born and most of the stats. Back then there were only 16 teams. I knew all the players.
“That’s where I got the love of stats.”
For a class at Western Illinois University, the Ottawa graduate compiled a list of all-time leading scorers for Ottawa boys basketball and all-time leading passers, rushers and receivers for Pirate football.
“I did it over Christmas one year,” Eilts said. “It took a while. I did most of my research at the library. We were fortunate, right after World War II, the old sports editor would put the final stats in every year.
“We went back and double checked. (We looked at) microfilm. That really hurts your eyes.”
Eilts did a similar project for Western Illinois athletics and discovered that legendary Ottawa and IVCC basketball coach Dean Riley was at the time one of WIU’s all-time leading receivers.
After college, Eilts worked in the sports department at the Ottawa Times from 1976-93.
He covered some of Ottawa’s all-time great boys basketball teams in the 1977-78 state team — led by future NBA Draft pick Craig McCormick — and the 1984-85 state team.
And Eilts continued to keep Ottawa’s historical statistical records. When he left the newspaper business, he still had the itch to keep stats.
“I’ve been associated with Ottawa forever. I went to school there then I came back and I was writing about them,” Eilts said. “(When I left the newspaper), the coaches asked, ‘Will you still keep doing stats?’ I said, ‘Sure.’”
When Eilts left the newspaper for G.E. Plastic — now Sabic Innovative Plastic — he missed some games because he worked afternoons, but now he’s a training coordinator with a daytime schedule, he attends all the football games — and this year will again serve as color commentator on WLWF-FM 96.5 — and only misses three or four basketball games per season.
For football, he keeps all stats — including tackles — longhand, but for basketball he uses a computer program that allows him to compile season stats and print game stats following each contest.
Eilts also keeps stats — longhand — for some girls basketball home games but doesn’t travel with the team.
“I just like being around sports, particularly high school sports,” Eilts said. “It’s something I enjoy doing and I think I’m pretty good at it. I’ve been doing it since I kept Pony League scorebook when I was 15.
“I’ve always been interested in keeping stats.”
Eilts took his penchant for statistics and history and, along with Jack Myers and Don Harris, started the Ottawa Hall of Fame in 2006.
The Ottawa Hall of Fame recognizes Ottawa graduates for many different accomplishments — not just athletics.
“It’s a really good thing for Ottawa,” Eilts said. “It honors coaches, students who have gone on to be successful and teachers. It’s a cross section of people we’ve put in. We really push that it’s not just sports.
“It’s something I really have enjoyed. … My role in it has been to nominate and do research. … I’ve met a lot of interesting people through that.”
Eilts, who said he’s been called “the Ottawa High historian,” by former area broadcasters Lanny Slevin and Jim French, is retiring in December so he’ll be even more available for games and may pursue involvement with IHSA events with his extra free time.
“It’s been fun,” Eilts said of his stat keeping. “There are good people there (at Ottawa). They appreciate what I do.
“I’ll keep doing it until I feel I’m not doing well at it. That’s when I’ll stop.” Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.
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