Local sports writer to be inducted into Kaneland Hall of Fame
by Susan O’Neill
KANELAND—Don Watson will be inducted into the Kaneland Hall of Fame this spring as a “Friend of Kaneland.” His connection with the Kaneland District and its athletic teams goes back to the early 1970s, when he and his family moved to Elburn.
Sports coverage for the Kaneland athletic teams was virtually non-existent when Watson arrived in town. The Elburn Herald would sometimes have only a paragraph or two in its weekly coverage, and the daily papers were busy covering the larger schools in Geneva, Batavia and St. Charles.
Watson had two boys in sports—one a swimmer, the other a diver—and as a proud father, he wanted to acknowledge their accomplishments. He approached Louise Cooper, owner, editor and publisher of the Elburn Herald at the time, with the idea of writing about the Kaneland sports events.
Cooper told him that if he wrote something, and there was space for it, the paper would print it.
“I had never done anything like this previously,” Watson said.
His college degree was in business, with minors in psychology and music.
Watson began by covering the boys’ basketball season in 1974, and his first article about the Sycamore King Korn Tournament, titled “Knights shucked in Korn Tournament,” ran in the Dec. 5 issue.
“It was the beginning of a journey that covered a span of 28 years for this part-time sports writer,” Watson said. “I was able to be a witness to some of the most memorable Kaneland sports teams and tell the community about their accomplishments.”
During that time, boys and girls track both won two state championships, as did the boys cross-country team and the girls basketball team. Kaneland also documented two back-to-back undefeated football teams in 1997 and 1998.
Pattie Patterman, now a language arts teacher at Kaneland Harter Middle School, was a sophomore on the Kaneland girls basketball team in 1982, when it won the state championship. She played basketball all four years, and was on the varsity team during her sophomore, junior and senior years.
“I have such fond memories of Don,” she said. “He was more like a member of the team than just a reporter. He knew everyone personally and he was with the parents in the stands.”
Patterman said that Watson not only wrote about the star players who scored the most or had the most rebounds, but also documented whoever had a good game that night, whether it was handling the ball or registering steals.
The girls team knew that the community was strongly behind them. According to Patterman, you couldn’t drive anywhere without seeing team signs in yards.
Patterman will be the one to introduce Watson at his induction ceremony. She said she is happy to be able to honor someone who was such a supportive part of her high school years.
“He continued to be there throughout my whole high school experience,” she said. “If we were there, he was there. He was a very positive influence.”
Watson didn’t just write about sports; he was instrumental in establishing a women’s athletic program at Waubonsee Community College. He established the Lady Chiefs volleyball program at Waubonsee Community College in 1977, and served as head coach for the next 14 years. His teams finished in the Skyway Conference’s top three at least seven times during that stretch.
Watson helped to establish the women’s softball program, as well, and coached the team to victory in the Skyway Conference in 1980. He was inducted into the WCC Hall of Fame in 2010.
He also coached the girls volleyball team at Hinckley-Big Rock High School for 13 years.
Watson was quite an athlete himself, and at 50 years of age began playing on an Illinois volleyball team that went on to compete in nine straight Senior Nationals. He also played with the team in the USA Volleyball National Championships in Phoenix.
Watson continues to be an inspiration to young people in the area. When he turned in his last story to the Elburn Herald, the paper honored him with the title “Sports Editor Emeritus,” and established a scholarship in his name. The Elburn Herald Donald L. Watson Scribe Award is a journalism-specific award in honor of his development of sports coverage for the Elburn Herald.
Watson said he was happy that he could give the athletes at Kaneland an outlet for their accomplishments, and a place where they could go and read their names in the paper.
“It was a fun gig,” he said.