by Bob Kelley, retired RLC Sports Information Director
INA, Ill. - Without question a gung-ho student-athlete during time spent at Rend Lake College from 2003-05, Justin Kunz may be the first honoree to accept his induction into the RLC Sports Hall of Fame somewhat less than wholeheartedly.
One of his greatest admirers, former Cross-Country and Track and Field Coach Brent McLain, did not come right out and say it, at least not in those words. But he may have inferred it. That was the gist of what he said. He hinted as much.
See, Kunz is a twin. And McLain knows twins.
Half of McLain’s four children are twins. His wife, Dr. Deedra McLain, delivered in her own way daughters Amelia (Mia) and Madilyn (Madi) on February 2, 2002.
A year and a half later, the experienced dad found himself playing Cross-Country and Track and Field father to two more sets of twins. Rey and Ricky (Ricardo) Alvarez made their way down from Danville. Jeremy and Justin Kunz came from Lebanon. Thanks in large measure to their arrivals, McLain & Co. would claim a third straight National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II National Championship in Fall 2003, followed up by a third-place showing in the 2004 Indoor Track/Field Championships, sixth Outdoors. The 2004-05 campaign brought a third in a combined, more competitive D-I Cross-Country field, second Indoors and fifth Outdoors.
“An outstanding gentleman,” McLain describes Justin Kunz, who enjoyed a great athletic career and was a great student, “but never bragged about it, never flaunted it. He is just a really nice, humble guy.”
The fact Jeremy Kunz – Academic All-American, 5000-Meter All-American Indoors (sixth as a sophomore) and three-time Coaches Association All-America (top eight among American-born competitors) – is not going into the Hall with him will have an effect on his brother.
“Justin and Jeremy are pretty close,” McLain commented. “I know Justin. He is going to be sad it is not Jeremy (being inducted), too.”
For the record, Justin and Jeremy Kunz, along with Rey and Ricky Alvarez and Mia and Madi’s dad, already own a niche in the RLC Sports Hall of Fame. The 2003 NJCAA D-II Men’s Cross-Country National Championship Team was voted in last November.
The 12th RLC Sports Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies will be conducted Saturday, November 6, at 6 p.m. on the Ina campus. It is open to the public, with reservations in advance required.
The Class of 2010 includes another representative of his sport – the 2002 Men’s Indoor Track National Championship 4000M Distance Medley Relay Team featuring 1200M contributor Rob Duncan, 400M Santos Gonzalez, 8000M Rusty Millenbine and 1600M anchor Ian Hornabrook – plus Second-Team Baseball All-American catcher Chad Stombaugh (1986-88), Softball Pitcher Amanda Perjenski (1995-97) and the 1988-89 Region XXIV and Great Rivers Athletic Conference Champion Men’s Basketball Team that finished 29-6.
Justin Kunz was a true All-American.
He was named to the NJCAA Academic All-America Team for 2004-05 with a 3.65 grade-point average (4.0-point scale).
In Cross-Country, he was Second-Team All-America as a freshman in Fall 2003 when he finished second on the team – just one second behind Rey Alvarez – as the balanced Warriors made it three consecutive NJCAA titles. One-half of the pride of Lebanon posted a time of 25:51 over the five-mile Kansas University layout in Lawrence to place seventh overall.
The tight-knit representatives from Rend Lake College crossed the finish line 6-7-9-10-11-15-16 in a tremendous display of depth on an otherwise cold, nasty day. Discounting runners who were competing as individuals and not members of a team, and counting only the top five finishers in team totals, RLC officially finished 2-3-5-6-7 for a winning score of 23, compared to 50 for runner-up Paradise Valley C.C. (AZ). Championship Warrior totals the two previous seasons were 55 in ’01 and 45 in ’02.
Kunz knocked :12 off his time the following fall in El Paso, TX, but settled for 12th overall and Honorable Mention All-America status for third-place Rend Lake College in a much stronger, combined NJCAA Division I field (Division II was eliminated).
Justin Kunz was a four-time Outdoor Track and Field All-American – top eight individually – when his seventh-place showing in the 10,000-Meter Run in Spring ’04 (as well as Coaches Association All-America after his 11th-place finish in the 5000M) was a prelude to even better results as a sophomore. He was third in the 10,000M (32:08.59) and fifth in the 5000M (15:48.26) to account for 10 of his fifth-place team’s 60 total in Spring ’05.
The newest Hall-of-Famer also was a three-time NJCAA All-American Indoors in Track and Field. He improved from sixth in the 5000M as a freshman to third in March 2005, plus eighth in the 3000M. The Kunz brothers helped Rend Lake College finish runner-up for the 2005 Indoor title in a 108.5-107 photo-finish behind Champion Barton County C.C. (KS).
Justin Kunz departed with Warrior Outdoor records in the 3000M (8:44.25 at Indiana University’s Billy Hayes Invitational in ’05) and 10,000M (31:27.25 at the ’05 Region XXIV Meet), as well as a share of the 4 x 1500M Relay record (16:46.84 at the Alabama Relays in ’04 along with the Alvarez twins and Tim Clark).
“Justin was not blessed with a huge amount of athletic talent like some kids . . . to tell you the truth, he was slow. He had to work at it, and he did. He was one of those kids if you told him to work on something, you knew he was going to do it,” McLain recalled.
“He had a great career for us. There is no doubt he is one of the best American-born kids we ever had here.”
And there is no doubt Cross-Country was his best sport, according to his coach. “He may not have had much speed, but he had endurance. About the time other runners were beginning to fade, he was just getting going good. The longer the race the better for him.”
Kunz also holds the distinction as the first Rend Lake College product ever to advance to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Cross-Country Championships. He did so for Indiana State University, where he and his brother both competed in Cross-Country and Track and Field their last two years.
An Engineering major destined for the Construction Management field, the RLC President and Dean’s List regular and Academic All-American also earned an Association of Licensed Architects Student Merit Award which went to those “who have exhibited exemplary achievement throughout the year.”