INA – Keynote speaker Rich Yunkus said it all with the phrase “building on a tradition of excellence,” Friday night, at the first-ever Rend Lake College Wall of Fame Recognition Ceremony.
College administrators and athletic staff finally got their chance to put some faces with the names on the RLC Wall of Fame, which has stood outside the campus Aquatics Center for the past year and a half, and recognizes student-athletes for excellence in academics and athletics. The first brick was laid in September of 2006 and the project, sponsored by the Rend Lake College Foundation, was complete by that December.
According to Yunkus – a Benton-based financial advisor with Edward Jones and member of the RLCF Board of Directors – the project was nearly scrapped by the board. However, he was one of a few members who voiced their support of the project and urged its approval. The proposal was brought before the board by RLC President Mark S. Kern, who also serves as a member, with the help of RLCF CEO Pat Kern. Mark Kern was recently named an Emeritus member of the board and will retire on Monday after serving as the college’s president for 17 years. He is also a member of the RLC Sports Hall of Fame.
Yunkus said he immediately became excited when Kern brought the idea to a RLCF Board meeting.
“I said, in basketball terms, ‘This is a slam dunk!’” he said. “It is something dear to my heart and, of course, we voted unanimously for it.”
Yunkus is a member of the Georgia Tech Hall of Fame and is its all-time scoring leader in only three basketball seasons as a Yellow Jacket, back in the late 1960s; when student-athletes couldn’t play as freshmen, there was no three-pointer, and a slam dunk meant grounds for a technical foul. He was drafted to the Atlanta Hawks in 1971. Before all of that, Yunkus led the mid-60s Benton Rangers to the state tournament – twice. His jerseys are retired in both the Benton and Georgia Tech sports arenas.
He told the former Warriors and Lady Warriors in the crowd Friday night that everyone was there to “honor the best of the best, ever, at Rend Lake College.
“I know the commitment, sacrifice and effort that it took ... to be the best of the best. I am really, really proud of you all tonight.”
He added that, in his opinion, a premier athletics program garnering nationwide recognition and attention is the best promotion possible for a college. He said honoring those who attended the recognition ceremony is just one more way RLC is “building on a tradition of excellence.”
Brent McLain, RLC’s Assistant to the Vice President of Finance and Administration for Athletics, and Athletic Director, talked about the rigorous steps for inclusion on the RLC Wall of Fame.
Automatic qualification is granted to a team or individual who places in the nation’s top three in a sport, first-team All-Americans, Academic All-Americans, and RLC Male and Female Scholar Athletes of the Year. Academic All-American teams are also automatically included on an Academic Wall of Fame panel mounted at the entrance to the Aquatics Center.
McLain went on to explain that region and conference champions, second- and third-team All-Americans, school record holders, and members of a team that competes in a national tournament are all nominated, but require a committee vote to be included on the Wall of Fame. The committee is made up of the RLC President, Foundation CEO, VP of Finance and Administration, AD, and members of the coaching staff and RLCF Board.
Due to the strict guidelines for selection, very few names will be added to the Wall of Fame each year. Mark Kern pointed out that, because of this, a recognition ceremony will probably be held once every five years.
“This is a very select group,” McLain said of those on the Wall of Fame. “It is quite an honor to have your name on that wall.”
“It is there for an eternity,” Yunkus said.
RLC Wall of Fame Honorees who attended Friday night include:
April Gibson (Tilden) – a softball player and RLC Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2004-05 who was a Distinguished Academic All-American (4.0 GPA at RLC).
Joni Reid (Coulterville) – the first RLC softball player to be selected an All-American (2nd team for the 1991-92 season).
Katie Furlow (Christopher), Jamie Williams (Benton), Jennie True (DeSoto) and coach Lyndsey Moore (West Frankfort) – members and coach of the Laker Girls 2007 National Dance Association Championship team.
Rebecca Harris – a women’s basketball player and 2005-06 Honorable Mention All-American who went on to a celebrated career at the University of Illinois and is now entering an international basketball league.
Chris Bernard (Belle Rive) – a pitcher and 1998 Scholar Athlete of the Year who transferred to play at Southwest Baptist University.
Shane Garner (Sesser) – a baseball and basketball player and RLC Scholar Athlete of the Year in 2003-04. Garner was the Fornear Family Scholarship recipient his sophomore year at RLC and went on to play baseball for the Salukis at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Angela Dehning (Hazel Crest), Sarah Gereaux (Dwight), Megan Hood (Coulterville), Renee Ryterski (DuBois) and Jessica Smith (Swansea) – members of the Academic All-American Lady Warriors Golf Team from 2006-2007.
Pasca Cheruiyot (Eldoret, Kenya) – a 12-time national champion in cross-country and track who will begin her career at Missouri State University in the fall as a runner and nursing major.
Bruce Johnson (Wayne City) – a student coach for the basketball team and 1983 RLC Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Seiger Shurtz (Benton) – a Warrior guard, Academic All-American and 2006-07 RLC Scholar Athlete of the Year.
Stacy Sturm (McLeansboro) – a center on the basketball team and Academic All-American in 1987-88.
Eric Alberter (Belleville) – a four-time national champion runner (800m, 4x800m, DMR) and six-time All-American in 2005-06, 2005 USA Junior All-American in the 800m and 12-time Region 24 champ. Alberter held the school records in the 600m, 800m and 4x800m; and transferred to the University of Florida where he was a NCAA DI All-American.
Justin Crain (McLeansboro) – a member of the NJCAA-record-holding cross-country team with 23 points, member of the 2002 and 2003 DII NJCAA championship cross-country teams, four-time All-American (5K, 10K), and Region 24 champ. Crain transferred to Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
Todd Green (Wayne City) – a SIUC transfer, 2003 national champion and two-time All-American in the high jump who once held the school record in the event. The three-time Region 24 champ transferred from RLC back to SIUC.
Kurt Heimann (Breese) – a 2006 national champion (4x800m), two-time All-American and five-time Region 24 champ. Heimann transferred to Indiana State University where he was a region qualifier.
Justin Kunz (Lebanon) – a member of the 2003 national championship and record-holding cross country team, five-time All-American (cross country, 10K, 5K) and Region 24 champ who transferred to Indiana State University where he qualified for the NCAA Championship and came in 76th.
Jeremy Kunz (Lebanon) – a member of the 2003 national championship and record-holding cross country team, five-time All-American (cross country, 10K, 5K) and Region 24 Champ who transferred to Indiana State University.
Phil Mevert (Steeleville) – a member of the 2006 NJCAA Division I Championship cross country team.
Rusty Millenbine (McLeansboro) – RLC’s first national champion in track. He is a member of the 2003 national championship DMR team and is a three-time All-American (DMR, 600m, 4x800m. Millenbine held the school records in the 600m and 800m, is a four-time Region 24 champ, and transferred to SIUE.
Travis Redden (Benton) – a member of the 2002 and 2003 national championship cross country team who transferred to SIUC.
Lucas Roethlisberger (Nashville) – a member of the 2003 national championship cross country team who transferred to St. Louis University.
Marcus Walton (Patosie, Mo.) – an eight-time All-American (DMR, 4x400m, 4x800m, 800m) in 2004-05 and 12-time Region 24 champ who held the school records in the 800m, 4x800m and 4x400m; and transferred to Missouri Southern University.
Jeremy Whitaker (Granite City) – a member of the 2006 DI national championship cross country team and 2008 indoor track and field team, three-time All-American (4x800m, cross country, steeplechase), and Region 24 champ who will run at Western Illinois University in the fall.
Brad Middleton (Edwardsville) – a 2007 national champion in the DMR, four-time 2006-07 All-American (steeplechase, cross country, DMR) and five-time Region 24 champ who transferred to Lewis and Clark College.