Enterprise Publications honors Drake Skleba for outstanding service to the community
He receives inaugural 'Athletic Ambassador Award' that will bear his name going forward
Last updated 3/21/2021 at 5:10pm
As the COVID-19 pandemic caused havoc all over the country, it was routinely stated that those most impacted were the elderly and those with preexisting conditions and that, for the most part, children and teenagers were not at risk.
That would be determined by how you define risk.
Sure, the teenage population was not lying in hospital beds or on ventilators - but they were still impacted.
These teens lost school, prom and graduation.
The artists lost inspiration, the musicians lost performances and the athletes lost competition.
So, after it looked bleak for many months, when the Illinois High School Association finally decided to open the 2021 sports season, however abbreviated, there was excitement.
Coaches were excited to draw up game plans, athletes were excited to see live game action and sports reporters were excited to get out and cover events.
No reporter was excited more than Drake Skleba.
Drake has been attending high school sports on a regular basis since 1987 and covering sports since 2006 when a chance meeting at a baseball game landed him freelance jobs for Prep Baseball Report and the Chicago Tribune.
Not a journalist by trade, Drake took to the profession as a stringer a few years after retiring from a 30-year career with General Motors.
While many reporters become passionate about their job, Drake was lucky enough to turn his passion into his job.
With the 2021 season finally starting, Enterprise Publications - The Bugle, Enterprise and Sentinel - was going through the same problems as many other publications that had managed to survive the pandemic lockdown - how to cover them?
There had been no sports section for months, and freelancer budgets were all but nonexistent as advertising revenue needed time to come back and businesses regained footing from being closed themselves.
Drake had an answer to that.
He would cover the games for no pay - a gesture to get the student-athletes coverage while the newspaper industry regrouped.
And that is what he has done this entire basketball season, covering one or more games in a day since the season tipped off.
"I have always respected the coverage and hard work he has put in for the kids. It doesn't surprise me that he would take no pay to continue to work," said Downers Grove North coach Jim Thomas. "When Drake is at a ballgame and he is covering your team, he always brings about a smile to everyone he interacts with - always. He is just about as genuine a guy I've interacted with who cares about people and kids. He knows more about the rivalries and big games in the [West Suburban] conference than anyone I have ever interacted with. He can pull information off the top of his head from many years ago and I always love hearing the stories."
As a matter of fact, even pre-pandemic, Drake worked tirelessly to bring the local student-athletes to the forefront.
If there were a budget at the paper for three stories in a given week, Drake would still cover as many as he could fit into his schedule.
Simply put, Drake cares.
He cares about the student-athletes, the coaches and the administration of the schools in the coverage area so much he is willing to give of himself to benefit them.
And they appreciate it.
"When looking at all of the great players in our area throughout the years, these players and their accomplishments are not spread by word of mouth only. It is spread through hard work and great journalism by wonderful individuals like Drake Skleba," said Plainfield North baseball coach John Darlington. "Drake has gone out of his way to promote the athletes at Plainfield North each and every season. He has also consistently followed past athletes to see how they have progressed past their high school years. Our school and community are indebted to the hard work that Drake has done for them throughout the years. Thank you, Drake."
"Drake is a champion for high school athletics in our area," said Bolingbrook boys basketball coach Rob Brost. "I always love to see him in the gym and at our games. We are forever in his debt because of his service to young people. It does seem like he is everywhere - probably because he is."
"This is my 48th year of coaching basketball and the media and I have had a great relationship over the years. However Drake is one of the few who stands out as someone who is truly there for the coaches and players," said Joe Gura, Joliet Catholic Academy boys basketball coach and Illinois High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer. "His writings reflect what happened during the game but he goes a step further and always tells the positive and human story of every game I love the man for what he has done for high school sports."
Drake brings an excitement and a passion to his stories - not only because he is a great storyteller, but because he feels that energy when he is writing the story after a game.
"He really puts his heart into it," said Benet Academy boys basketball coach Gene Heidkamp. "He brings a passion and excitement to his coverage and the kids enjoy reading his stories. He enjoys putting the spotlight on the kids and the programs and he also develops relationships with the kids and the coaches. I really appreciate him and what he has done for Benet Academy and all of high school athletics."
"Drake has never failed to come up to me before a contest to say hi and chat a little. He is one of the most personable individuals I have come across," said Bolingbrook athletic director Rob Rose. "I have observed his love of covering young men and women competing. I'm appreciative of his contributions he has made to advancing our sports and student-athletes into the limelight and look forward to working with him for years to come."
When Drake covers the games, he is not only interested in the plays in the game, the stats or a team's record, he cares as much about the players and coaches as people as he does as athletes.
"Watching Drake walking over to your dugout to grab the lineup, it is impossible for you not to start smiling," said Joliet Catholic Academy baseball coach Jared Voss. "You know how genuinely thrilled he is to be there, how excited he is to ask you about your family, the team, and the season. We are very lucky to have Drake Skleba promoting our area high school sports. He is as good of a person as he is a reporter and his passion for covering our student athletes is priceless. Thank you Drake -you're the best."
"I have known Drake for over 30 years. He is a tireless worker and supporter of all players and coaches," said Maine South boys basketball coach Tony Lavorato. "Drake understands the game and the emotions. He knows the correct questions to ask and also the questions to not ask. Finally, Drake is just a nice person - he is always asking about family and non-sport-related items. He is truly an old-school reporter and we have been honored and blessed that he has covered Maine South Basketball over the last 18 years."
It is difficult to cover games like Drake does and not develop a friendship with many of the coaches and administrators along the way.
"Honestly, what can one say? It's remarkable to think that he is going through this because he simply loves his job so much," said Downers Grove North girls basketball coach Stephan Bolt. "To be completely honest though, I can't say that I'm surprised. He puts so much passion into his coverage and every piece he writes. Drake pours his entire heart and soul into his work and more importantly, these kids. I know how much he cares about prep sports and even more, these student-athletes. I cherish the moments we get to chat before and after games about the season and life in general. I had no idea at that moment before we played DGS (and got shut down for nearly two weeks) that he was there simply out of the heart and dedication to his work and more importantly to make sure these spectacular student-athletes have the opportunity to feel special by having their name in a newspaper article during such a difficult time for so many of them and their families.
"You, my friend, are remarkable. I will look forward to seeing you again soon and I look forward to thanking you in person for the amazing sacrifices you've made for our athletes."
"He is someone who I consider my friend," said Plainfield South baseball coach Phil Bodine. "He has done so much for our kids over the years that I consider him a Cougar at heart, but I'm sure the other coaches feel the same way as far as all the schools he covers. He did this as a hobby when he started a love of high school athletics and he someone who I cherish as a friend and also a Cougar for life. I love his company and friendship. In my 31 years as a head baseball coach he is by far the best scribe I have had the pleasure to work with."
That hobby Drake had of attending high school sporting events parlayed itself into a job as a writer and curator of the Prep Baseball Report Illinois Daily roundup for several years, where he brought scores and highlights from around Illinois high school baseball to the fans and followers at Prep Baseball Report.
"Drake's enthusiasm for high school baseball is unmatched," said Prep Baseball Report Scouting Supervisor Steve Nielsen. "Rain or shine, he'd be covering games."
While with the PRB, Drake was awarded the 2009 Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Media Relations Man of the Year.
He also did work for the Joliet Herald-News, the premier daily newspaper in the Will County area under now retired sports editor Dick Goss - recipient of the 1999 Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Media Relations Man of the Year.
"For any sports editor, as I was for 35 years at the Herald-News, Drake was an ideal stringer. He was willing to go anywhere to cover football, basketball or baseball, and he always researched teams he was covering before he went," Goss said. "He interviewed multiple players and coaches after games to make sure he was being thorough, and he established a good working relationship with anyone he interviewed. He was an excellent ambassador for the Herald-News."
Ambassador is exactly the right word to describe Drake.
In fact, at what was supposed to be the 2020 Prep Shootout Senior All-Star Basketball game that was put on annually by Enterprise Publications at the University of St. Francis - Drake was unknowingly going to receive the inaugural Athletic Ambassador Award, which would be given to a fan, staff member, team manager, etc. from one of the schools in the paper's coverage area.
So, despite of the cancellation of the game in both 2020 and this season and without a chance for a public presentation - the award will still be issued this year and will from here on out be named in his honor as the Drake Skleba Athletic Ambassador Award - an award much earned.
He will be presented with a physical award in the near future as well as have a hand in selecting all future recipients of this award.
"What a well-deserved honor for Drake and very fitting given what he has contributed to high school sports," Brost said.
"I'd like to thank Drake Skleba for his hard work and dedication over the years. Drake is a consummate professional who took great pride in getting our athletes and teams the recognition they deserved," said Joliet Catholic Academy football coach Jake Jaworski. "I first met Drake years ago while he was working with Prep Baseball Report. Over the years we've developed a great friendship. As much as he loves covering our teams, the first thing Drake does when you would see him at a game or talk to him on the phone is ask how my family and I are doing - a genuine person."
"Drake Skleba is a living legend," said Sean Duncan, Prep Baseball Report President and 2005 Illinois High School Baseball Coaches Association Media Relations Man of the Year. "I am grateful for all the years he worked at Prep Baseball Report. He's a tireless worker who absolutely loved covering high school baseball. He spent endless hours tracking records, compiling daily roundups during the season.
"After a while, Drake affectionately was known as the Guru, because he knew all the records, all the results, during a time when results and records weren't easily found online. Drake is first-class all the way and he deserves all the accolades for the services he provided to high school athletes across the state."
Enterprise Publications General Manager Andrew Samaan knows what Drake means to the publication itself, as well as the industry - especially is these difficult times.
"Drake is an amazing individual who's very passionate about high school sports. His positive can-do attitude is infectious around the office," Samaan said. "He's always willing to go the extra mile in everything that he does and he pushes everyone around him to be their very best.
"We can all learn from Drake. He is always so positive and willing to help. I'm blessed to have employed such a remarkable individual for so many years. He is the epitome of hard work and commitment and someone I truly admire."