OTTAWA — If you’ve ever seen your name listed in the IHSA Sports Record Book or in the online list of records, chances are that Jerry Bretag played a part in recognizing your accomplishment.
The longtime sportswriter from Ottawa passed away July 9, at the age of 82, leaving behind a legacy of more than 100,000 separate records entered into the IHSA’s huge database over the course of the last 30 years.
That was not Bretag’s biggest accomplishment, by a long shot. He was born with spina bifida, a life-threatening disease, and spent much of his childhood in St. Francis Hospital in Peoria in surgery and therapy.
After years of treatment, Jerry was able to walk with canes and leg braces, but the overall prognosis was not good: doctors advised him it wouldn’t be worth it for him to go to college because he had only a few years left to live. But Jerry persevered against all the odds and despite never being able to play sports himself, worked as a sports writer and editor for almost 30 years, first in Ottawa, and then in DeKalb, before finding a career spot at the Quad City Times.
When the physical demands of the job finally became too much for Bretag, he retired on a disability pension and took on a new project. Jim Flynn of the IHSA was interested in developing comprehensive lists of record-holders in the various IHSA sports, and Bretag stepped in with vigor.
In the early days, Bretag’s submissions arrived at the IHSA office on printouts rolled into scrolls that had to be retyped by office personnel. In more recent years Jerry used a laptop logged in to the IHSA office network to do his work. Jerry reviewed submissions from parents, coaches, sportswriters, and fans, and if they met the criteria for inclusion, he retyped them in “IHSA format.”
He also scanned state tournament box scores and results for inclusion in the separate list of state tournament records. The result of his work is the largest set of records produced by any state high school association in the country, now available online at the IHSA Web site.
In 2008, the IHSA honored Jerry with its Distinguished Service Award, which is given to individuals with a long history of service to the Association. In the last few years of his life Jerry had to give up independent living and moved to the LaSalle County Nursing Home where he continued his work on IHSA records until his final days.