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HALL of FAME: Nice-guy Craig a 2x National Champ, Hall of Famer and World Record-holder
The 13th Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet will be held at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24, in the RLC Student Center.
By Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director and 2012 Hall of Fame inductee
Just to set the record straight . . .
Jason Craig, a product of Huber Heights, OH, was a Warrior before he was a world record-holder. But Craig was a world record-holder before he was a two-time National Junior College Athletic Association National Champion for the Warriors.
And his upcoming induction into the Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame is meant more to recognize his winning performances in 2005, when the sophomore capped his Juco career by winning the NJCAA Indoor 400-Meter Run and a couple of months later stepped out of his comfort zone to contribute to a victorious 4 x 800M Relay Team Outdoors.
As for that world record, impressive and legitimate as it is, well, that is merely icing on the celebration cake for a Track and Field superstar who will be honored on-campus Saturday, March 24, along with four other individuals and three relay teams.
The Class of 2012 represents the largest of 13 to be welcomed into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame since its inception in 2000.
Pretty safe to say, however, Craig is the lone world record-holder among a select group which grows to include 28 individual student athletes, four track relay teams, two Coaches, three Sports Professionals and teams representing Men’s Cross-Country (three National Champions), Men’s Golf (NJCAA runner-up), Softball, Baseball and Men’s Basketball.
In between seasons at Rend Lake College – after he earned the first two All-America distinctions (of six overall) as a freshman – Craig represented his country by running the third leg (:45.6) for the USA 4 x 400M Relay Team that set a Junior World Record of 3:01.09 at the 10th International Association of Athletics Federation World Junior Championships in Grosetto, Italy in July 2004.
Thanks to the confidence gained from that summer “vacation” and a year of collegiate competition under his World Championship belt, the veteran gave the Warriors their only Gold Medalist in the 2005 Men’s Indoor Track and Field Finals at Eastern Illinois University. He was declared winner of his 400M specialty in 47.90 seconds, the same time as the runner-up from Southwestern Christian College (TX).
He also placed eighth in the 200M Dash. But Barton County Community College (KS) overcame his title and four runner-up efforts by RLC representatives to escape with its eighth consecutive NJCAA Indoor crown by the narrowest of margins, 108.5-107. By contrast, the Craig-less Warriors in 2006 boasted four National Champs yet finished second again to the Barton buzz saw, 136.5-78.
Craig set the Indoor 400M Run school record a month earlier at the Arkansas Tyson Open Meet at :47.78. His :21.48 in the 200M Dash at the same meet established another record.
Two months later, Craig responded affirmatively to the suggestion by Coach Brent McLain that he give the 800M distance a try, in order to fill a relay need. The newcomer then ran the second leg for the NJCAA Championship Outdoor 4 x 800M Relay squad – another entry into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame on the 24th – and was second individually in the Outdoor 400M Run in a school-record :46.33.
His two All-America showings as a freshman both came Indoors, when the Warriors were third as a team, with a second in the 200M and a sixth-place effort in the 400M. [The top eight competitors rate All-America status in individual events; only the top two relay teams in each event do.]
Craig departed with Warrior Outdoor records in the 100M (:10.47), 200M (:20.93) and 400M, as well as the 4 x 100M, 200M, 400M and 800M Relay Teams.
“One of the top recruits in the United States coming out of his school,” according to McLain, Craig was a “stud.” “His times were outstanding.” His academics were another story; he did not qualify for a four-year, Division I scholarship.
“What I remember about Jason,” McLain commented, “is that he was one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, and a great athlete. He knew right from wrong. Any classroom shortcomings he may have had were not from a lack of trying.”
Craig may have been a “stud,” athletically speaking, but he was not imposing physically, McLain said, “until you saw him take off running, and then he was amazing.”
How nice of a guy was he? Craig would give his friends the shirt off his back. Literally. Any fancy uniforms, sweats and other USA paraphernalia he was awarded as a Junior Olympian are now worn proudly by his acquaintances. Apparently, all they had to do was ask.
“Everybody loved him,” recalled McLain. Including the coach.
“I heard he had been doing some volunteer coaching at a Junior High in Ohio. Anybody would be happy to have a kid like him around helping.”