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HALL of FAME: Alberter ran with decision, became a real hit on track with four National titles
The 13th Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, March 24, in the RLC Student Center.
By Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee
INA, Ill. - The bond between Allen and Eric Alberter, father and son, was held tightly together over the years by the red thread of a baseball. Or so it seamed, literally speaking.
Eric was a promising first baseman/outfielder for the Belleville West Maroons, doing what came naturally for a third-generation player and making his father proud.
It was in his bloodlines, after all. Allen, a catcher, played for North Central College in the Chicago suburbs of Naperville. One of Eric’s grandfathers, third baseman Dick Safrian, signed a professional contract with the Washington Senators only to suffer a torn rotator cuff in his first spring training; back then, a career-ender.
[Quick side note: The older of Eric’s two younger brothers, 6-foot-4, 230-pounder Ryan Alberter, played baseball for Rend Lake College from 2007-09.]
Now put yourself in the shoes, or baseball cleats, of a burned-out Eric Alberter, who was about to tell his hero, his Dad, a couple of weeks before the start of his senior season he wanted to run track instead. This from a person who previously had run cross-country to stay in shape and was mediocre, at best.
“Up to this point in my life . . .” recalls Eric Alberter, “the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life.”
The voice trembled. The knees knocked. But there was no thunder, no bluster nor roar at the receiving end.
“He just looked at me,” tells the son, “and said, ‘OK. If that is what you want to do. Go for it.’ ”
A good decision? The proper, adult-like reaction? You decide . . .
Consider Allen Alberter will have the pleasure Saturday night (March 24) of introducing Eric Alberter when the latter is inducted into the Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame as a four-time National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National Champion.
Eric Alberter earned All-America distinction nine times in all during his two-year Juco career for the Warriors, including four runner-up finishes to go along with a first individually in the 2006 NJCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships 800-Meter Run and a key leg on three Relay Team champions – the 2005 Outdoor 4 x 800M Relay and the 2006 Indoor 4000M Distance Medley Relay and 4 x 800M Relay.
Did we mention, Alberter today is the Head Coach of the Rend Lake College Cross-Country and Track and Field teams. He succeeded his Warrior mentor, Brent McLain, in 2009.
Before his arrival in Ina, in his only track season at West immediately following his life-changing decision, Alberter set a Southwestern Conference record and broke a 35-year-old school record with a 1:54.65 clocking in the 800M Run in the Sectional Finals at Marion.
Following his first RLC stay and prior to his return, Alberter was a two-time National Collegiate Athletic Conference (NCAA) Division I All-American for the University of Florida (as a member of two 4 x 400M Relay Teams), First Team All-Southeastern Conference Academic and a member of the SEC Community Service Team for his efforts as a student-athlete in the Fight Against Cancer.
Good decision? A great decision.
But even Alberter himself was not so sure at the beginning of his college career, especially when he ignored McLain’s summer workout sheet and learned with the rest of the team a four-mile run was expected on Day One.
“It was a learning experience, for sure,” he said. “I had to learn how to train and prepare and then how to race. It was a little bit of a roller-coaster for me. And I was homesick; I almost decided to stay home at the semester break, before deciding to stick it out.”
A third-place showing as a freshman in the NJCAA 800M Finals convinced him the decision to stay was a wise one.
“I don’t know if I had won any meets prior to the nationals, but I knew I was running faster than I ever had thanks to the training we had been doing. There I was hanging in there with guys who had been All-Americans. It was a real eye-opener and made me think maybe I had what it takes to be an All-American,” Alberter said.
In a heat where the top two advance to the finals, the RLC freshman was third. But the disappointment was short-lived After all the heats were history, Alberter’s time was good enough to merit one of the last two berths in the finals and led to the ultimate third-place, All-America showing.
He also contributed that first Indoor Finals to runner-up showings with 4 x 800M and Distance Medley Relay efforts. Two months later, he placed second in the Outdoor 800M Run and anchored the victorious 4 x 800M quintet in a school-record 7:37.64. That Freshman First was shared with three sophomore teammates – Marcus Walton, fellow Hall of Fame inductee Jason Craig and Tim Clark.
As a confident sophomore veteran, he opened Friday’s 2006 Indoor meet at Kansas State University by running the third leg of a 10:17.50 Distance Medley Relay, along with fellow National Champs Chris Rengifo, the lone freshman member, Anthony Flournoy and Brad Middleton.
Alberter & Co. started Saturday’s finals in the same manner, this time anchoring a winning 4 x 800M Relay squad in a Warrior-record 7:52.74. The baton arrived to him by way of fellow quartermile specialists Shannon Sherrer, Kurt Heimann and Pat Clark.
By the time he capped off a near perfect day with the third National crown – his 1:53.62 in the 800M Finals – the Warriors boasted two individual champions, two relay champions and their second runner-up effort in a row as a team.
A Hall of Fame career concluded for Alberter with a fourth second-place showing in the 2006 Outdoor 4 x 800M Relay.
“He had God-given talent, but he worked very hard and did everything 100 percent,”said Coach McLain. “We were a better team because of him; he was our rock.”
McLain remembers his successor as a “great guy from a great family. I think he had hidden athletic ability he did not know he had. But everything he accomplished he owed to hard work.”
Alberter found kindred spirits at Rend Lake College with the likes of the Kunz twins – 2010 Hall of Fame Inductee Justin Kunz and Jeremy Kunz (Lebanon), both Academic All-Americans as well as in Cross-Country and Track – and Heimann (Germantown / Breese Central H.S.) and Middleton (Edwardsville).
“We always knew Eric would be there and we could count on him. When he put that uniform on, you knew he would do everything right and set the example for everyone else. You could always count on him to do everything the right way. He was a great athlete with a great work ethic.”
When Alberter returned as an assistant coach and was then named to succeed the retiring McLain a few months later, the man with multiple National Coach of the Year honors “was happy the way things worked out. I knew the Rend Lake Track and Cross-Country programs would be in good hands.”
Despite a recent ban by Rend Lake College administrators regarding the recruitment of foreign athletes – two-time Cross-Country Individual Medalists Ian Hornabrook (Queensland, Australia) and Stephen Sambu (Eldoret, Kenya), as well as Ben Cheruiyot and Pasca Cheruiyot (Eldoret, Kenya), who pulled off a men-women’s sweep in 2007 by the host school, spearheaded a powerful contingent in the recent past – Alberter has guided his charges to third-place National Indoor showings two of his three seasons.
Alberter’s 800M best of 1:49.66 Outdoors was topped by RLC Kenyan Olympian Boaz Lalang in 2008. He also rated No. 1 Indoors in the 600M (1:20.59) and 800M (1:53.08).