Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: L.T. Bonner

Illini Legends, Lists & Lore: L.T. Bonner

A former Fighting Illini football letterman who became a Hall of Famer as a multi-sport official was born on his date in 1932.

Lory Thomas “L.T.” Bonner, born in Fulton, Ky., and a star at Zion High School, played for Illinois head coach Ray Eliot and lettered in 1957 and ’58.

A reserve halfback, he played a key role in helping halfback Bobby Mitchell and fullback Ray Nitschke achieve Big Ten stardom.

Bonner enrolled at Illinois after military service in Korea, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree in education. He eventually became a shop teacher at Chicago’s Phillips High School.

His love for sports encouraged him to officiate sports and in 1999 was one of just three officials licensed by the Illinois High School Associate to serve in six different sports.

Involving calls that ranged from patience to toughness, Bonner often joked that his initials L.T. stood for “lion tamer.” Several younger officials credited Bonner as their inspiration and mentor for entering the officiating profession.

Bonner’s career as an official included appearances in four IHSA state finals. He advanced to become a collegiate official and worked Big Ten Conference games, including the 1983 Rose Bowl game between UCLA and Michigan.

The NFL eventually hired Bonner as one of its first replay officials. He also officiated in the United States Football League and the Arena Football League.

Bonner was inducted into the American Football Association Hall of Fame in 1992.

He died in 2014 at the age of 81.
Illini Birthdays:
Today: Blayke Hranicka, volleyball (20)
Monday: Rashard Mendenhall, football (30)
Tuesday: Brandon Ngai, gymnastics (19)
Wednesday: Charles Armstead, football (56)
Thursday: Robert Madix, baseball (79)
Friday: Gerry Schmidt, football (72)
Saturday: Andy McVey, swimming (49)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @B1GLLL. His new website is
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