HALL of FAME: The Kelley connection - Longtime SID drafted to RLC Sports Hall of Fame
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.
INA, Ill. – Bob Kelley will be inducted into the Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame this weekend as a sports professional. The induction ceremony is set for 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 24, inside the Student Center on the main campus in Ina.
Kelley - who now lives with his wife, Kendi, near Lexington, Ky. - retired in 2006 from the position of RLC director of marketing and public information, a position he played for 27 years. He was sports information director for the first 24.
Kelley’s connection with RLC began with his mother, Kathleen Kelley, who worked as a secretary for the college’s lone dean, Howard Rawlinson. Kelley tried out for the Warriors basketball team, but his role in sports wasn’t meant to be as a player.
“I tried out and Jim Waugh cut me,” he said with a chuckle.
Consequently, Kelley’s work chronicling Warrior happenings began more than a decade before he became its salaried professional writer. The Mt. Vernon native covered Warrior athletics for the Register-News as a freshman and sophomore, and graduated from Rend Lake in 1969. Thirty-six years later, he was being handed the college’s “Outstanding Staff” Award.
Kelley said he is honored and thrilled to be an inductee into the Hall he helped to build for so many years.
He was a member of the Sports Hall of Fame Steering Committee and emceed the induction ceremony until retiring. He also emceed 11 RLC All-Sports Banquets. He was an assistant basketball coach for Mitch Haskins from 1981-1986 and assisted baseball coach Kirk Champion in the fall of 1981. During the last decade of his tenure at RLC, Kelley volunteered as the official scorer for the basketball teams. In his role as sports information director, he produced media guides and programs, took photos, and spent countless nights waiting for coaches to call so he could get the results to the media before deadline. Safe to say that if there was a game, match, race or likewise on the RLC campus, one wouldn’t have to look far to find Kelley.
Even today, coming up on the sixth anniversary of his retirement, he is an instrument for the athletics department at Rend Lake. He produces the program, plaque graphics and stories for the Sports Hall of Fame, and is in the final stages of writing a historical account of the college that will include an in-depth look at RLC athletics and picks up where Rawlinson’s “The First Fifteen Years” left off.
Thinking back on all the championships, and gifted athletes and coaches he worked with and wrote about, Kelley said there are a couple of memories that stand out. Maybe the first softball team to make it to nationals comes to mind? Perhaps his memory goes to a powerhouse golf program or the first national championship for the college?
“You know, it’s funny,” said Kelley. “Coaches are always saying how they remember the losses more than the wins. There are a couple of things I think of, but they are those heart-wrenching moments.
“Back before Rend Lake’s track and cross country programs won national championships, our men’s golf team gained national attention. It was the first program at RLC to emerge as a national contender on a regular basis.”
Jace Bugg came to play at Rend Lake in the mid-1990s. He won tournament after tournament, and eventually finished third in the nation as an All-American. Bugg was the undisputed best golfer in Warrior history before Leroy David Griffin came along and won the national championship.
“I remember one match,” Kelley said. “It was up by Chicago and when [Bugg] got there, he realized he had left his clubs back home. … He won the tournament on borrowed clubs. He was just an outstanding golfer.”
After RLC, Bugg made it to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Amateurs. He was beaten by a player who had been eliminated from the tournament by Tiger Woods the year before. His success increased and Bugg found himself on the cusp of qualifying for the PGA Tour.
“Then he started having physical problems,” Kelley said. “They kept up hope that he was on the way to recovery, but he never recovered.”
The rare form of leukemia Bugg was diagnosed with took his life in a very short time.
“It was the closest Rend Lake had ever come to having someone make a name for his self on the national level and he was gone. He had married his high school sweetheart and they were a team all along. … It was so sad.”
Bugg was inducted into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame shortly before he died. His father attended the ceremony to accept his award.
“I took great pride in Jace Bugg and the Rend Lake College connection to him.”
The other memory Kelley plucks from his past right away involves the baseball team of 1985-86. It was a fantastic season for the program, the best-ever – sectional and regional championships, and one win away from reaching the Juco World Series.
“They only had to win one of two games in Chicago,” he recalled. “They ran into two left-handers they just couldn’t hit … after an unbelievable season of hitting. They got beat both games in the doubleheader. That was just a terribly disappointing thing.”
That team was inducted into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
“Mainly what you remember are the teams you liked or the teams you didn’t like. There were teams that had talent and teams that had chemistry. I learned a long time ago that chemistry is more important. Those are the teams that developed into your winners, for the most part.
“Another thing I liked about Rend Lake athletics was … I always enjoyed the relationships with the coaches. Mike McClure. Wayne Arnold. Jim Waugh. Tim Wills. Dave Smith. Dave Ellingsworth. I really enjoyed dealing with the coaches on a regular basis.”
He was a sports writer for eight years before taking the job at The Lake. He wrote for the Evansville Courier’s Sunday Courier and Press edition, which was centered on sports. He also worked at the Owensboro Messenger in Kentucky before returning to southern Illinois to work at his alma mater and live in his hometown. The Kelleys moved into a home in Mt. Vernon where his grandmother had lived.
“I love sports and that’s what I wanted to get into,” he said.
Kelley also served as the treasurer of the Great Rivers Athletic Conference from its inception, 1984-85, until 2006, save for one year. He doubled as secretary the first seven years and was publicist for three years. He also provided 25 years of publicity for the S.I. Lions Club All-Star Games.
As the leader of RLC’s marketing and public relations efforts, Kelley was in charge of making sure all news – not just sporting news – flowed from the college to regional, state and national media outlets. To pull off the production of the programs and extras that coaches and players enjoyed from year to year, Kelley had to put in long nights and weekend work. He said his wife’s patience was key in this.
Through his dad’s heavy involvement in RLC athletics, Kelley’s son, Damon, was able to grow up around collegiate athletes and go on some road trips with the team. Damon is a basketball coach today.
“I’ve always been proud of anything Rend Lake College accomplishes in any area,” Kelley said. “… I devoted a lot of time to it.”