By former RLC Director of Marketing Bob Kelley
INA - Who knew? Certainly not the startled honored guest. Safe to say the audience was clueless to what they were about to witness.
For that matter, neither of the other two individuals nor members of the National Championship team inducted Saturday evening into the Rend Lake College Sports Hall of Fame were aware they would forever be linked with one more Fame-ous “teammate” in the Class of 2008.
They may not have known what was going on, but it is doubtful anyone could dispute the credentials of Hall-worthy Mark S. Kern, the Rend Lake College President who was named to the select company during ninth annual festivities on the Ina campus.
The 17-year chief administrator, under whom the Warrior / Lady Warrior kingdom has increased threefold, from five teams to 15, is a Hall-of-Famer the likes of these previously announced 2008 inductees:
• Wayne Arnold, the do-it-all most familiar figure in the college Athletic Department dating back to his Mt. Vernon Community College head-coaching days in 1963-64.
• Elizabeth Kasey, Second-Team All-America as a freshman after leading the first Lady Warrior Golf Team to a sixth-in-the-nation showing in 2000.
• The 2001 Men’s Cross-Country Team which established a program-wide standard of excellence which can only be equaled as the first National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) National Champion.
So how does a homegrown, former Agriculture Instructor, Department Chair, Dean of Community Services and College Dean rate inclusion with those of such distinguished sports persuasion?
The fifth full-time President (and longest serving by more than six years) was the first college employee ever recognized for 35 years of service in 2004. When he was appointed to the position in 1991, the sports-minded resident of nearby Snowflake inherited an athletic contingent which for economic reasons had been pared to Men’s Basketball and Baseball, Women’s Basketball and Softball, plus a fledgling Men’s Golf squad.
Among his numerous accomplishments and forward-thinking strategies, Kern was able to envision the many advantages of an expanded sports program to the benefit of both the college community and students alike.
Today, the major roundball sports and two-time NJCAA National Championship runner-up Men’s Golf team share the stage with Women’s Golf, Women’s Tennis, Volleyball, Wrestling, Men and Women’s Cross-Country and both Men and Women’s Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field, plus competitive Dance and Cheerleading squads.
With the college setting enrollment records almost routinely in recent years, RLC has gained national notoriety with four NJCAA Championships (all by Men’s Cross-Country, including three in Division II from Fall 2001-03 and a Division I title in 2006), six national runner-up finishes (four in Men’s Indoor Track/Field and the two in golf) and 27 other Top Ten NJCAA showings in nine different sports since 1995. The Laker Girl Dance Team won a National title in competition in Florida in Year Two.
Brent McLain, who now lists Assistant to the President for Athletics among his many titles, is a five-time NJCAA “National Coach of the Year.”
The establishment of a Learning Enhancement Center which provides a study-hall atmosphere and tutoring while emphasizing the former in student-athletes has made a major impact as well. In both 2004-05 and 2005-06, Rend Lake College boasted six Academic Teams of the Year with composite grade-point averages of 3.0 (on a 4.0-point scale) or higher. The Lady Warrior Tennis Team claimed the highest GPA among 12 deserving teams in that sport for 2004-05 with its RLC-best 3.51 rating. Coach Diane Metzger’s netters “slipped” to No. 2 the following year out of 19 Women’s Tennis teams singled out despite upping its overall GPA to 3.70, again the school’s finest. Women’s Golf, Women’s Basketball, Softball and Volleyball likewise attained Academic Team-of-the-Year status both years, with Men’s Basketball breaking the gender-monopoly in 2004-05 and Men’s Cross-Country replacing their cage counterparts in 2005-06. A total of 23 Rend Lake College student-athletes have been named Academic All-Americans in the last three years, including that banner year of 2004-05 with five Distinguished Academic All-Americans (3.8-4.0 GPAs) and 10 other Academic All-Americans (3.6-3.8).
Rend Lake College ranked No. 11 in the country in 2005 and No. 12 in 2006 in the Pepsi National
Alliance of Two-Year College Athletic Administrators (NATYCAA) Awards NJCAA Scholarship Division Top 20. According to the Summer Special Academic Issue of Juco Review, the official publication of the NJCAA, this award “recognizes overall athletics program excellence by two-year colleges at the national level.”
Kern has every right to take pride in the financial status of the college, considering a fund balance which has grown from $600,000 to better than $2 million during his tenure, and a Rend Lake College Foundation which had $120,000 in assets in 1991 and now supports college programs with assets of $4 million-plus and provides approximately 60 endowed scholarships and $300,000 in total scholarships annually.
Also to his credit are such things as off-campus showcases in the RLC MarketPlace at Mt. Vernon and the RLC Murphy-Wall Pinckneyville Campus; Applied Science Center completed in 2005; on-campus RLC Foundation Children’s Center; remodeled Administration Building which was doubled in size to consolidate student services; Staff Clock Tower, and North Road. Not to mention unique programs such as Wireless Communications Technology and Heavy Equipment Technology, as well as the one-of-a-kind Studio RLC, the first Paul Mitchell Partner School (Cosmetology program) affiliated with a public college, and expanded Culinary Arts offerings. Or even two concepts he introduced during his Ag days still widely used – Vocational Advisory
Councils and Cooperative Education.
But we stray. Record enrollments, innovative educational programs and campus growth are just part of his legacy, which also includes the sports-related Aquatics Center; a Hitting Zone training facility which already has been doubled in scope to include other athletic programs; a state-of-the-art outdoor track; the Walls of Fame and Honor to further recognize excellence; a bicycle-walking trail which winds through campus; a golf driving range; improved baseball/softball fields and parking facilities, and the unique RLC Golf Outlet which attracts sports enthusiasts far and wide to the Mt. Vernon MarketPlace.
The newest Hall-of-Famer welcomed Rich Herrin to Benton as a member of the latter’s first Ranger
basketball team and was a first-rate fast-pitch softball hurler in Southern Illinois for many years. Four of his five children – all successful as adults in their own right – performed competitively at the collegiate level. Eric played baseball at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale; Brian was a Distinguished Academic All-American as a baseball-basketball starter for the Warriors and later pitched professionally in the Oakland A’s organization; Jason followed in his brother’s footsteps as a pitcher for the Warriors, and Megan played volleyball one season and was a member of both dance and cheer squads during her recent stay at Rend Lake College. Oldest son Frank is a commercial pilot today. Eric is a corporate financial consultant; Dr. Brian Kern is an orthopedic surgeon; Jason is in hospital management, and Megan is working part-time while completing her education at SIU-Carbondale.
When Kern is not busy managing the comprehensive community college, he operates a 660-acre beef cow farm near Ewing. He was recipient of the 2001 Statewide Commercial Producers Award and is a past winner of Franklin County Soil Conservation “Farmer of the Year” and Franklin County 4-H “Outstanding Alumnus” awards. He also was selected in 1987 as one of three farmers to host the Cooperative Extension “Cow Tour.”
Kern and Pat (Mitchell) Kern, Rend Lake College Foundation CEO, were married in Fall 2006. The 2008 RLC Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet was the ninth overall. Membership does not come easy. Kern, Arnold, Kasey and the 2001 Winged Warriors join the company of 14 other individual players, two teams and two coaches. No more than five individuals/teams can be inducted in the same year.