2002 DMR Team - FROM LEFT, 800M Rusty Millenbine, 400M Santos Gonzalez, 1200M Robert Duncan and 1600M Ian Hornabrook.
by Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director
INA, Ill. - In a remarkable 10-year span, former Rend Lake College Coach Brent McLain guided his charges to four Cross-Country National Championships and one Indoor Track and Field crown and a runner-up finish, earning five National Junior College Athletic Association “Coach of the Year” titles.
During the journey from 2000-09, he cheered five individual Warriors as they crossed the NJCAA Cross-Country tape first and stood proudly as 15 RLC representatives and four other relay teams claimed Indoor Track and Field championships, followed a few months later by seven individual and three more relay winners Outdoors in Track and Field. A total of 249 individuals and relay quartets captured All-America status, another 14 were Academic All-Americans.
So does he remember anything special about the 2002 Indoor Distance Medley Relay team featuring an all-freshman quartet of 1200-Meter Rob Duncan leading off, 400M Santos Gonzalez, 800M Rusty Millenbine and 1600M anchor Ian Hornabrook?
“Very vividly,” responded McLain. “You don’t forget something like that. The first thing noteworthy was something that happened during the race. Secondly, it was the first time we ever won a race or an event in Track and Field; it was our first National Championship in Track and Field.”
Let it be noted the first Track and Field relay championship team will be inducted into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame on November 6, 2010 . . . despite a dropped baton en route to the winner’s circle. A school-record time (10:13.47) despite a knockdown punch in the middle rounds.
The baton drop was not the result of a bad exchange, as might be expected, but rather unavoidable contact on the second leg by an All-State running back who was used to protecting the ball/cylinder.
Eventual nine-time NJCAA All-American Duncan (Seipio, IN / Jennings County High School) “ran a great relay leg and gave us a decent lead by the time he handed off to Santos,” according to McLain.
However, “on that 400 leg, everybody is always tight. There was nothing intentional about it, but Santos got tripped up from behind and had the baton knocked out of his hand. It rolled to the side, but not out of the lane, and he literally had to reach over and pick it up off the ground.
“It was scary at the time but turned out to be a great moment.”
Gonzalez (Pontiac), one of seven running backs named to the 33-member Champaign News-Gazette All-State Football Team in 2000, never panicked, composing himself enough to leave Millenbine (McLeansboro / Hamilton County Senior H.S.) in “about third or fourth-place.”
“Rusty then ran a great race and got us back into second-place maybe. After that, Ian just ran away with it.” A two-time individual Cross-Country National Champion and 2009 Hall of Fame inductee, Hornabrook (Queensland, Australia / Southport State High) “ran faster than he ever had. He was more motivated by what had happened; they all were.
“I think the dropped baton probably helped us out in the long run. It seemed to give us that extra motivation we needed. Maybe it was poetic justice that we won.”
Four years after the fact, the winning time remained four seconds better than any other attempt by a Warrior 4000M DMR Relay team. The school record fell in 2008, when Rend Lake College won by more than 12.6 seconds over the second-place team in 10:04.89; that all-freshman squad was anchored by Kenyan Olympic superstar Boaz Lalang and included another Cross-Country champ, Ben Cheruiyot, Travis Taylor and Aaron Dixon.
Sharing center stage with the 2002 DMR squad during 12th Induction Ceremonies will be Justin Kunz, a Cross-Country / Track and Field standout from 2003-05; Second-Team All-America Baseball catcher Chad Stombaugh; Hurler Amanda Perjenski, the third player to be recognized off the 1996 NJCAA National Fast-Pitch Softball Championship qualifier and Region XXIV winner, and the 1988-89 Region XXIV and Great Rivers Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball championship squad that went 29-6.
McLain remembers each of the DMR components as a “nice kid.” Perhaps that is where the “poetic justice” plays into the overall picture.
Duncan overcame serious, late-season injuries to help both the Fall 2001 and Fall 2002 Hall of Fame Cross-Country Teams to National Championships. As a sophomore, he placed second in the 1000M Run and fourth in the Mile at the Indoor Track and Field Championships, when the Warriors were NJCAA runner-up. The 1000M record-holder (2:29.39 in the 2003 finals) earned a full-ride and competed the last two years for Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.
“Robert really liked cross-country, but he had the natural foot speed for track and liked that, too. He was a great 800M runner and miler, but it turned out he really loved the 1200M. It was as if he was made for that in-between distance.”
He was recruited because of his potential as a gifted runner, McLain indicated, but Gonzalez was built to play football. “That was his first love. He was a nice kid, also, who loved to run track, but his true love was football. He came up to me after his freshman year and said he was leaving for the opportunity to play football again. I understood.”
Millenbine was another McLain favorite, one of those nice kids who was just a country ‘hick” like the rest of us (McLain is from Benton). You had to love him, he worked so hard. He was mildmannered, a great student. It was wonderful to see him have so much success, because he was just such an awesome kid.”
Millenbine teamed with Duncan, Hornabrook and Darrell Fickas to finish second in the 4 x 800M Relay 2003 Outdoor Finals, a couple of months after finishing sixth and All-America rank in the 600M Indoor Finals.
The Aussie, Hornabrook, had competed at a high level all over his native continent “and was familiar with what it took to compete at that level. He had always wanted to come to the United States for a chance to compete.
“And I was lucky as a coach, because Ian was the type of kid who made everybody around him better. He would even help you recruit the best, because he knew it could only make him better if he was surrounded by the best. He was not afraid of the competition.”
“Just a great kid” Hornabrook went on to All-America credentials his last two years at Florida State University. Original plans to stay in the States did not materialize, and he is again living in Gold Coast, the second most populous city in Queensland and sixth-largest in Australia with its population of 400,000-plus.
Hornabrook was the first RLC student-athlete to win an individual National Championship, the first to repeat and the first to enter the Hall of Fame as an individual as well as a member of two teams (now three, counting his DMR mini-team). Injuries prevented him from contributing much Outdoors as a freshman, but he still finished with All-America classification six times as an individual and twice on relays. In 2002, he was third in the Indoor Mile; as a sophomore, he was second in both the Indoor 5000M and Outdoor 3000M Steeplechase, third in the Indoor Mile.