Niles loses Bonner, long-time scoreboard operator, coach

Published 8:53 am Thursday, February 6, 2014

Anyone who regularly attends Niles High School athletic events probably knows Tom Bonner.

Bonner, who died Monday at age 58, had been the clock operator for the school’s basketball, football and wrestling events for more than 10 years. The lifelong Niles resident also served as assistant baseball coach for more than 15 years.2-6BonnerObit

Jeff Upton, Niles athletic director, said Bonner was always willing to do more than asked.

“Tom would be there because he loved Niles athletics and because he knew I needed him,” he said. “There were times when I would try to help Tom by running the play clock in football, but I would get distracted and Tom would end up running both clocks, because that is what was most accurate for running the game.”

Bonner was so dedicated, Upton said, that when the school bought a new football scoreboard, Bonner was there to discuss it with the crew that installed it. Bonner even took home the manual to study, knowing he was the one who would use it and run it.

“He never wanted anyone to question his integrity in running the game and it never was questioned,” Upton said. “Many nights I spent with Tom in the press box watching football, and we would end up discussing Niles teams from the past. With my limited history of Niles sports, Tom would be the one to tell me the rest of the story — the story behind the story.

“It seems hard to have these games without him here — there is a void at our scorers table. One of the true members of the Niles team has moved on, and he will be missed at Niles High School.”

Michael Vota, Niles head baseball coach, said Bonner was a true friend who dedicated his life to volunteering for the community he loved.

“Niles and NHS athletics were more than just a home to him — they were his way of life,” he said. “Niles was a source of pride that he believed in and promoted every chance he got. Tom loved to tell stories of his years and experiences of Niles and all their sports, most of all baseball.”

Vota said Bonner’s influence helped him become a better man and husband.

“I, along with many in Niles, will miss coach Bonner tremendously. Our Niles baseball team will never be the same without Tom by the dugout to pick a player up after a strike out or a bad inning,” he said. “I will miss our long discussions in the dugout or on the bus after games analyzing every play and calculating our next moves.”

Rick McKeel, who announces the football and basketball games for Niles, worked with Bonner for more than 15 years.

“We used to laugh a lot in the booth and on the courtside. One of our favorite sayings we used to use when a game was tied was, ‘I thought it would be a lot closer than this.’ We used to go back and forth on that one quite a bit,” McKeel said. “It’s hard to believe that less than six weeks ago we were sitting next to each other doing a basketball game and now he’s gone. You just never know when your time is up.”

In addition to running the clock and coaching baseball, Bonner also worked as a registered official for many years and was part of the crew responsible for putting the Santa Claus raft in the St. Joseph River near the Broadway Bridge in Niles.