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Q&A: Longtime Sports Reporter Reynolds Reflects On Career

Sports reporter Dave Reynolds recently concluded a 38-year run with the Peoria Journal-Star, covering the Bradley men's basketball beat since 1990.

He has also witnessed high school basketball championships and seen several future star athletes come through the area. In an interview with Joe Deacon, Reynolds offers his perspective on Peoria's sports community and his role of telling its stories.

Joe Deacon: Through nearly 40 years of coverage, what is your biggest takeaway or impression of the Peoria area sports community as a whole, and how have you seen the community change over the years?

Dave Reynolds: Well, that's a big question. It's been a tremendous place to cover sports, between Bradley basketball, you've got minor league, hockey, minor league baseball, some really, really outstanding high school programs, particularly in basketball. So it was a great place for me to land nearly 40 years ago and kind of sample a little bit of all those things.

I was fortunate to cover the Bradley Braves for 30 years and got to see a lot of highlights and lowlights with that program. But obviously, the high school scene is strong and vibrant with the high school tournament here for so many years, high school boys basketball. And covered the Peoria Chiefs for a long time and also did a lot of Major League coverage with the Cubs and Cardinals particularly.

As far as change, it's sort of evolved over the years. I think it's, as a whole, it's just as strong as it was nearly 40 years ago, I think, just in terms of fan interest. The (Missouri) Valley is obviously a big component of the interest here, with Illinois State and Bradley so close together. So I was really fortunate to have a lot of time covering teams during that time.

When you reflect back, it always goes, it's like it goes by in the blink of an eye. But when you're going through it sometimes – particularly in a losing season – sometimes it kind of drags on. Overall, though, memories have been good.

You packed a lot of memories into your farewell column, from several teams’ postseason successes to those long wintery drives across the Midwest. What are a couple of your fondest memories?

Reynolds: Well, I'm in terms of Bradley basketball, I still go back to the Sweet 16 run in 2006. That was a team that was loaded with talent that was underachieving for the first couple months of the season. I think they were 13-9 at one point heading into February. I was disappointed in how they were playing overall; obviously, it was a great year in the Valley, so the competition was really stiff.

But I thought that the Bradley team would rise above where they were at that point, and then they just took off in February and into March. Obviously (they had) the big upset win over Kansas in the NCAA Tournament, and then Pitt (Pittsburgh) to get into the Sweet 16 – just some great memories there. Not only the team's play, but the way the fans just not only traveled with the team, but how they how they handled themselves when they were there: you know, on their feet the whole time and loyal to a fault and greeted the team when they came back to the airport in the thousands. It was just really a neat thing to see, not only from Bradley standpoint but from the city of Peoria as well. So that would probably be near the top.

So many other great moments I mentioned in the column, from postseason play with the Cubs and the Cardinals (to) just a lot of neat memories with high school teams and state champions and the Manual Rams’ run in the 90s … yeah, you can just go on and on. I've been fortunate to see a lot.

Covering 950 Bradley games since 1990, it must give you a different perspective on the team than most people get. How did you view your responsibility as the beat reporter and getting the readers closer to the team?

Reynolds: I think when I started out, I already had experience covering college basketball: Illinois State for a few years, some other college teams in the area and then back when I lived in Iowa, I covered Iowa State for several years. So I had a pretty good feeling for the landscape of college basketball.

What I saw at Bradley, and Illinois State as well, was just, you know, the really strong loyal support. That just fires you up as a writer to see how many people really care and are passionate about their programs. And it was such a great thing to see those packed houses at (ISU’s) Horton Field House and then as I was covering Bradley, they would fill up Carver Arena for the big games and close to sellouts for most others.

Probably the biggest highlight was just knowing that I wanted to be able to put out a product for the fans, in which most of them already knew how the games turned out. But I tried to take them behind the scenes and tell them things they didn't know, not only in what the players and coaches said but little things that I might notice because of my access that the normal fan wouldn't even know about. Those are the kinds of things that really drove me to try to seek out those little details and inform, enlighten and entertain my readers.

We both know that the best sports stories are more about the people than the games themselves, and you got to know a lot of people over the years – including a Baseball Hall of Famer in Jim Thome and an NBA champion in Shaun Livingston. Who are some of the others that you feel fortunate to have been able to cover?

Reynolds: Well, I did mention a lot of the Bradley players, some great ones through the years. Anthony Parker probably rises to the top of Braves that went on to have great careers professionally. He was just such a wonderful kid to cover in college because he came in as a freshman pretty much unrecruited by the Division I circles and Bradley was able to land him. He was about 6-(foot)-4 and pretty skinny, 170 pounds when he arrived on campus.

But he was one of those kids you could tell right away that he had that ‘it’ factor, even as a young freshman. Not only did he develop into an outstanding college player, but he was always a great interview: always humble, always available and he continued that on through his professional career.

Some other good players at Bradley, Deon Jackson was always a favorite of mine. Some people might forget about a player like Andrew Warren, who was a solid college player but he was just such an amicable guy. He did impressions; you know, he did a great Barack Obama.

I think about the other players who were just wonderful to talk with: James Gillingham comes to mind. I think about the times that Danny Granger started out his Bradley career and then transferred and then went on to an NBA career in which he became an All-Star. So those are sort of the basketball players that I covered.

I think about the Peoria Chiefs, the young Peoria Chiefs and No. 1 on that list of course is Albert Pujols played the 2000 season in Peoria. He was one of those guys (where) you knew right away that he was going places. I didn't think he'd get there as quickly as he did, because within a year or so he was a starter for the Cardinals. With the Chiefs, obviously Mark Grace, you go way back to those teams in the 80s… Greg Maddux. Some Hall of Famers that came through Peoria, So I was lucky to cover a lot of those teams as well.

Obviously COVID-19 has had a huge impact on sports over the past several months, and consequently sports coverage as well. How challenging has it been for you to adapt to the situation over these past several months?

Reynolds: In some ways, not a great way to close it out. But you can't help the timing about things, and I was fortunate the last few months to be able to mostly work from home so you're not putting yourself in harm's way in terms of the virus. A lot of phone interviews, a lot of Zoom calls and that sort of thing. It wasn't the greatest environment, but you could write a lot of feature stories, get behind the scenes. Even though people weren't playing games, they were still around and available and willing to talk.

That part was hard because you had to write a lot of ‘what if’ stories and cancellations and all that sort of thing, which was disappointing for everybody really. But it was what it was – and still is, so hopefully we can get on the other side of this thing.

It was a hard thing to go through, but on the other hand I was able to manage it OK because the paper didn't expect you to be out on the front lines so much. I did some news coverage as well, and I was probably out more for those stories than sports, obviously, the last few months.

In reflecting on your career a little bit more then, what makes you the proudest of what you've been able to accomplish?

Reynolds: I'm proud I was able to just inform people and let them know what was going on with their teams, give them some insight. From all the wonderful reaction I got from people upon my leaving the paper, readers really seem to appreciate that, just the fact that my coverage was consistent, steady. I was always there; I think maybe if there's anything to say I'm most proud of, people could count on me, particularly for Bradley basketball coverage.

They knew that the next day in the paper, there would be a story about the Braves, win or lose. In between games, there would be notebooks and features and just tried to keep the coverage consistent and interesting. When you're writing about 12 guys over the course of many months, sometimes story ideas run dry. But you just try to approach each day as a new one and each situation for each player changes during the course of season. Then there's always the opposing games and coaches as well to write about. So I'd say just being able to be consistent and steady for the readers and put something out there every day for them to read.

As we know, the day to day grind of being a reporter can be a challenge as well. But what will you miss most about the job?

The people. Just being around all the, not only the players and coaches, but the other sports writers, the TV guys, the workers at the arenas, the other people around the game from the universities and sports information directors and the athletic directors. Even the referees sometimes.

I mean, you get to know – when you've done a beat that long – you get to know everybody pretty well. They see you at the games, they see you at luncheons and whatever the case may be. Just having those relationships with people, that has made it all worthwhile.

And it all kind of came to fruition every year at the Valley tournament. I covered every single one of the 30 events at St. Louis, and not only getting to know everybody around the conference, but the conference people themselves: Doug Elgin, Mike Kern, Jack Watkins … all great people, all just wonderful in promoting their conference and I'll miss those guys a lot. So I'm hoping to make an appearance at the Valley tournament if the virus allows this year, but certainly in the future.


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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.