2018 Athletics Hall of Fame
This fall, the University will induct the Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2018. The 21 inductees include some of greatest athletes and coaches in Fighting Illini history.
“These men and women represent all that we value at Illinois, including integrity, work ethic, sportsmanship and excellence,” says Josh Whitman, Illinois’ director of athletics. “Individually and collectively, their accomplishments, both on our campus and across the world of sports, are the stuff of legend.”
National hall of famers, Olympians, national champions, multi-sport stars and All-Americans dominate this list of legendary Fighting Illini names. There are 14 living members of the Class, 10 men and four women.
The inductees include such notable coaches as Lou Henson (basketball), Ray Eliot (hockey, football), Charles Pond (gymnastics) and Maxwell Garret (fencing).
Outstanding athletes include basketball’s Dave Downey, Kendall Gill and Johnny “Red” Kerr; track and field’s Celena Mondie-Milner, Tonya Williams and Willie Williams; volleyball’s Nancy Brookhart Cherin; soccer’s Tara Hurless; football’s Jim Grabowski and Dana Howard; baseball’s Darrin Fletcher; tennis’ Kevin Anderson; golf’s Scott Langley; gymnastics’ Justin Spring and wrestling’s Joe Sapora.
Multi-sport athletes are Alex Agase (football, wrestling) and Charles Carney (football, basketball).
Charles Pond, Men’s Gymnastics Coach (1949-73)
During a 25-year run as head coach of the Fighting Illini, Charles Pond won an impressive 11 consecutive Big Ten championships and four NCAA team titles from 1950-60. He compiled an overall record of 319-152 (.677) and a dual-meet record of 150-78 (.658) at Illinois. Pond started his career at Illinois as an assistant men’s gymnastics coach for one season before advancing to head coach. He coached 107 men and women to national, Olympic and world titles, including six men and four women Olympians. Pond also coached the 1956 U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. He was inducted into the U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1966. He died in 2003 at the age of 88.
Kevin Anderson, Men’s Tennis (2005-07)
Kevin Anderson won the 2006 NCAA doubles title (with Ryan Rowe) and earned All-American honors each of his three seasons at Illinois. In addition to winning the national doubles title, he reached the NCAA singles semifinals and doubles finals in 2007, while leading the Illini to a national runner-up finish. He was a three-time First-Team All-Big Ten selection and the 2007 Men’s Tennis Big Ten Athlete of the Year. That same year, he also was named the Dike Eddleman Male Athlete of the Year. A native of South Africa, Anderson has climbed to a professional world ranking of No. 7 in men’s singles, and is the only Illini alumnus to win a spot in a Grand Slam final, which he earned at the U.S. Open in 2017 and at Wimbledon in 2018. Anderson plays on the Association of Tennis Professionals World Tour.
Darrin Fletcher, Baseball (1985-87)
Recording a batting average of .497—an Illinois record that still stands—catcher Darrin Fletcher earned First-Team All-America honors in 1987. He also garnered All-Big Ten recognition in 1985 and 1986 and First-Team recognition in 1987. A native of Oakwood, Ill., he was his team’s MVP in 1986 and 1987, and was named Big Ten Player of the Year in 1987. Fletcher was drafted in the sixth round of the 1987 Major League Baseball draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers and enjoyed a 14-year major-league career with the Dodgers, the Philadelphia Phillies, the Montreal Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays. He made one All-Star Game appearance in 1994 and finished with a career batting average of .269. His best season came in 2000 when he hit .320 with 20 homers for the Blue Jays.
Ray Eliot, Hockey Coach (1937-39), Football Coach (1942-59)
Nicknamed “Mr. Illini,” Ray Eliot was one of the most popular and inspirational personalities in Fighting Illini history. He served as UI’s head football coach from 1942-59, compiling a record of 83-73-11 during his 18 seasons. He also coached Fighting Illini hockey from 1937-39 as the program’s first head coach. Eliot’s 1946 football team was the first Big Ten (then Big Nine) squad to play in the Rose Bowl, after an agreement to pit the Big Ten and Pacific Coast Conference champions against each other in Pasadena, Calif. Under Eliot’s direction, Illinois won Big Ten championships in 1946, 1951 and 1953, and received National Champion honors in 1951 with a 9-0-1 record and a 40-7 victory over Stanford University in the 1952 Rose Bowl. Following his coaching career, Eliot served UI as associate athletics director and interim athletics director.
Celena Mondie-Milner, Women’s Track and Field (1987-90)
Celena Mondie- Milner was an 18-time All-American, while winning an incredible 19 Big Ten titles (10 individual and nine relays). One of the Big Ten’s most dominant sprinters, Mondie-Milner is Illinois’ all-time top performer in the indoor 55-meter, 200-meter and 300-yard, and in the outdoor 200-meter and 400-meter. A four-year, All-Big Ten selection from 1987-90, she was selected as Athlete of the Big Ten Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 1990. She set Big Ten outdoor records in the 100-meter (11.34), 200-meter (22.66) and 400-meter (51.14), and Big Ten indoor records in the 55-meter (6.73) and 200-meter (23.33). Mondie-Milner ran with the Illinois 4×400-meter relay team that set national and NCAA records, and was a member of Fighting Illini teams that won Big Ten Outdoor Championships in 1988 and 1989 and a Big Ten Indoor Championship in 1988. She also won the Big Ten Medal of Honor in 1990. In 1995, Mondie-Milner took third in the 100-meter and 200-meter in the USA Track and Field Championships and was a member of the U.S. team in the 1995 and 1997 World Championships. She won a gold medal in the 1995 World Championships for running in the 4×100 relay. Mondie-Milner was a unanimous selection to the Big Ten Women’s Outdoor Track All-Decade team in 1992.
Jim Grabowski, Football (1963-65)
A punishing running back, Jim Grabowski finished his Illinois career in 1965 as the all-time Big Ten rushing leader with a total of 2,878 yards. He earned Second-Team All-Big Ten honors in 1963 and First-Team honors in 1964 and 1965. Grabowski was a two-time GTE Academic All-American selection in 1964 and 1965, and received the Chicago Tribune’s 1965 Silver Football Award as the Big Ten’s MVP. In addition, he was a Consensus First-Team All-American and placed third in the 1965 Heisman Trophy balloting after finishing that year with 1,258 total yards. In recognition of his academic and athletic achievements, Grabowski received the 1966 Big Ten Medal of Honor. He went on to a six-year NFL career with the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears, playing in the first two Super Bowls for Packers’ Head Coach Vince Lombardi in 1967 and 1968. He was the first overall pick of the 1966 American Football League draft by the Miami Dolphins and the ninth overall pick by the Packers in the NFL draft. Grabowski was inducted into the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) Academic All-America Hall of Fame in 1993 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He was inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame in 1997 in recognition of his MVP performance of 125 rushing yards in Illinois’ 17-7 victory over Washington in the 1964 Rose Bowl.
Alex Agase, Football (1941-42, 46)Wrestling (1942-43)
Alex Agase was a three-time All-American football player. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1963. Agase started his career as an All-American guard at Illinois in 1942, then joined the U.S. Marines in 1943. After a decorated (Purple Heart and Bronze Star) two-year stint serving in World War II during the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, Agase returned to Illinois. He then earned Consensus First-Team All-America honors while helping to lead the Fighting Illini to a Big Ten Conference title and a Rose Bowl victory. He earned All-Big Ten honors three times. Agase also served as captain of the UI wrestling team in 1942 and 1943 while competing as a heavyweight. He played six seasons in the All-America Football Conference and the National Football League, winning three league titles with the Cleveland Browns. Agase enjoyed a lengthy Big Ten coaching career, first as head coach at Northwestern University (1964-72), then at Purdue (1973-76). Agase died in 2007 at the age of 85.
Johnny “red” Kerr, Basketball (1952-54)
Starting his Illinois career with a bang, Johnny “Red” Kerr helped the Fighting Illini win the Big Ten Conference championship in 1952. That same year, he was named to the NCAA Final Four All-Tournament team. Kerr won Big Ten Silver Basketball honors in 1954, when he was the team’s captain and MVP. He gained First-Team All-Big Ten recognition that same season after averaging 25.3 points per game. He finished his Illini career as the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,299 points. In the NBA, Kerr played for the Syracuse Nationals from 1954-63, the Philadelphia 76ers from 1963-65 and the Baltimore Bullets in 1966-67. He finished his career with 12,480 points, along with an NBA record for most consecutive games played (844) from 1954 to 1965, a record that lasted until 1983. He was a three-time NBA All-Star and was named NBA Coach of the Year in 1967. Following his playing career, Kerr served as head coach for three seasons with the Chicago Bulls and the Phoenix Suns—he was both teams’ first head coach—before enjoying a long broadcasting career with the same teams. Kerr died in 2009 at the age of 76, and was named posthumously to the Illinois All-Century Basketball Team in 2004.
Kendall Gill, Men’s Basketball (1987-90)
Kendall Gill will forever be remembered as a high-flying NCAA starter for the 1989 “Flyin’ Illini” squadron that advanced to the Final Four. As a senior in 1990, he earned Consensus Second-Team All-America honors, which included First-Team recognition by UPI and First-Team All-Big Ten honors. Gill averaged 20 points per game to lead the Big Ten in scoring in 1990. He was the first 20-points-per-game scorer in 16 years for Illinois, and he ranks third in school history for steals with a total of 218. After his stellar senior season, Gill was the fifth overall pick of the 1990 National Basketball Association draft by the Charlotte Hornets. He scored a total of 12,914 points during his 15-year NBA career with seven different teams with an average of 13.4 points per game, and led the NBA in steals in 1999. Gill was elected to the Illini Men’s Basketball All-Century Team in 2004.
Scott Langley, Men’s Golf (2008-11)
With an auspicious start as the 2008 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Scott Langley was a three-time All-American for the Illini men’s golf team. He became the first Illini to win the individual NCAA Championship in 2010. Not surprisingly, he also was named Big Ten Golfer of the Year in 2010, and was a three-time All-Big Ten selection. Langley was a three-time consecutive All-Midwest Region selection in 2009, 2010 and 2011, and he earned First-Team All-America honors in 2010. Langley turned professional in 2011, earning his Professional Golfers Association Tour card in 2013. He has 20 Top 25 finishes on the PGA Tour to his credit.
Willie Williams, Men’s Track & Field (1952-54)
Although he enjoyed laudable success during his collegiate track career, winning seven individual Big Ten sprint titles for Illinois, Willie Williams’ most famous moment came in 1956 at the National Military Track Meet in Berlin. Williams made history and became the “world’s fastest human” when he broke his hero Jesse Owens’ world record in the 100-meter at 10.1 seconds—in the same stadium and in the same lane where Owens had run as a gold-medal winner in the 1936 Olympics. Williams won NCAA sprint titles in the 100-yard in 1954 and 1955, and earned three All-American honors. He was a nine-time Big Ten individual sprint and hurdle champion, indoor and outdoor, from 1952-54, claiming indoor titles in the 60-yard (1953-54) and 70-yard hurdles (1952-53), and winning three times outdoors in the 220-yard and twice in the 100-yard (1953-54). Williams served as an assistant track coach at Illinois from 1982 to 2000 and invented several speed-training devices.
Justin Spring, Men’s Gymnastics (2003-06)
During his sterling Illini career, Justin Spring was a four-time NCAA individual champion and a 13-time All-American. Capping his senior year as the 2006 Nissan-Emery Award winner—the nation’s highest collegiate senior gymnast honor—Spring also was named the Big Ten Gymnast of the Year that season. He won three Big Ten individual titles during his career and finished as a three-time First-Team All-Big Ten honoree. Spring concluded his Illini career with school records in floor exercise, vault, parallel bars and high bar. In 2005, Spring became the first Illini gymnast to win a national title at the Visa Championships, winning the gold in high bar. He repeated his gold high-bar victory in the 2007 Visa Championships and helped the 2008 U.S. Olympic team win a bronze medal at the Beijing Games.
Joe Sapora, Wrestling (1928-30)
At 115 pounds, Joe Sapora was Illinois’ first back-to-back NCAA Champion, Big Ten Champion, and All-American during the 1929 and 1930 wrestling seasons. He later captured two Amateur Athletic Union national freestyle titles for the New York Athletic Club, and is a member of the City College of New York Hall of Fame. Sapora went on to coach wrestling at CCNY from 1932-68, where he helped Henry Wittenberg win the heavyweight gold medal at the 1948 Olympics. Sapora also coached Jacob Twersky, a blind wrestler, to the NCAA finals in 1942. Sapora died in 1992 at the age of 87, and was inducted posthumously into the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame
Tara Hurless, Soccer (2001-04)
Tara Hurless was a two-time Second-Team All-American for the Fighting Illini soccer team and finished her career as the all-time leader in goals, (47—a record that stood for 11 years), assists (21), points (141), shots (325), game-winning goals (16), matches (88) and starts (86). She was named First-Team All-Great Lakes Region in 2003 and 2004 after she gained Second-Team recognition in 2002. Hurless also was named First-Team All-Big Ten in 2003 and 2004, and was a Second-Team honoree in 2002. As the Fighting Illini’s offensive MVP all four years she attended the University of Illinois, Hurless was named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team in 2001, 2003 and 2004, earning the tournament’s offensive MVP honors in 2003. After helping the 2003 squad reach its first Big Ten Tournament title, she led the Illini into the NCAA Elite Eight in 2004.
Chuck Carney, Football/Men’s Basketball (1918-22)
One of the greatest dual-sport athletes in Fighting Illini history, Chuck Carney was a national star in both football and basketball, and earned the Helms Foundation College Basketball Player of the Year award in 1922. He is the only Fighting Illini athlete and the first in the Big Ten to earn Consensus All-America honors in both football (1920) and basketball (1920 and 1922). An outstanding end for Head Coach Bob Zuppke’s football squads, Carney was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1966. He also was the first Illini named to the Helms Foundation Basketball Hall of Fame. A three-time basketball First-Team All-Conference selection, Carney set a Big Ten single-season scoring record (188 points) that stood for 22 years. He died in 1984 at the age of 84, and was elected posthumously to the Illini Men’s Basketball All-Century Team in 2004.
Dana Howard, Football (1991-94)
The first Illini player to win a national football award, Dana Howard received the Butkus Award as Outstanding Linebacker in 1994, as well as Consensus First-Team All-America honors. He finished his Fighting Illini career as the Big Ten’s all-time leader in tackles, with 595 stops from 1991-94. Howard also garnered several First-Team All-America mentions in 1993 and achieved First-Team All-Big Ten status three times, after earning Second-Team honors as a freshman in 1991. He also was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 1993 and 1994. A model of consistency, Howard made 147 tackles in 1991, 150 in 1992 and 1994 and 148 stops in 1993. He holds three of the top four spots at Illinois in single-game solo tackles. During his senior year, Howard also had nine tackles for losses, four fumble recoveries and two interceptions. A fifth-round NFL draft pick by the Dallas Cowboys in 1995, Howard played with the St. Louis Rams that year, followed by a season with the 1996 Chicago Bears. Howard will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2018. A native of East St. Louis, Ill., he lives near Belleville, Ill., where he owns a construction company.
Maxwell Garret, Fencing Coach (1941-72)
More commonly known as “Mac,” Maxwell Garret earned recognition on the U.S. Fencing Hall of Fame’s Roll of Honor after he built an unprecedented career as one of the world’s top fencing coaches, innovators and officials. He became Illinois’ head fencing coach in 1940 while working on his master’s degree. After graduating in 1942, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces to serve in World War II for four years as a Special Service, Information and Education Officer, where he organized a variety show that sold $1.5 million in war bonds. During his 28 years of coaching at Illinois, the Fighting Illini won 17 Big Ten fencing championships, two NCAA championships, and was ranked below second place in the Big Ten only once. Garret compiled an all-time record of 245-71-1 at Illinois, while coaching 28 All-Americans. He was inducted into the Helms Foundation Hall of Fame for Fencing in 1956 and the City College of New York Athletic Hall of Fame in 1975. As UI developed a nationally recognized wheelchair sports program, Garret created the first U.S. fencing program for students who have disabilities, and coached the first U.S. wheelchair fencing team to bring home medals from the Paralympics. In 1969, he took a year’s leave of absence from Illinois to serve as the director of the Academy for Fencing Teachers in Israel, where he was named the National Fencing Coach for the State of Israel. Following UI’s 1972 season, Garret moved to Penn State University as head fencing coach, leading the Nittany Lions to six conference championships and third place at the 1979 NCAA Championships. After retiring as a coach in 1982, Garret continued his work as an internationally ranked fencing official and helped to coordinate the 1996 Olympic and Paralympic fencing competitions. Garret died in 2013 at the age of 95.
Tonya Williams, Women’s Track & Field (1993-96)
Tonya Williams was a two-time NCAA champion in the 400-meter hurdles in 1995 and 1996, setting an NCAA Championship meet record of 54.56 in 1996. A 14-time All-American (second-most in Illini women’s track history), she also finished second in the 100-meter hurdles in the 1996 NCAA Championships and third in that event in 1995. Williams ran with the Illinois 4×100 relay teams that finished third in the 1995 and 1996 NCAA Outdoor Championships. She was the 1996 Track & Field News Collegiate Athlete of the Year, and her first- and second-place finishes in the 1996 NCAA Championships were the best combination placing ever in the NCAA meet hurdles up to that point. Williams won an impressive 20 Big Ten championships, 10 each in individual events and relays. Williams was the Big Ten Track & Field Female Athlete of the Year in 1996.
Lou Henson, Men’s Basketball Coach (1975-96)
Legendary Head Coach Lou Henson stands as the winningest coach in Illini history. During his 21-year Illinois career, Henson amassed a 423-224 record, highlighted by 12 NCAA Tournament appearances and 11 20-win seasons. Under Henson’s leadership, Illinois earned a top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament seven straight years from 1984-90. Henson’s Fighting Illini won the 1984 Big Ten Championship and advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight. His most successful season came with the 1989 “Flyin’ Illini,” who won a then-school record of 31 games and advanced to the Final Four. Henson was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.
Nancy Brookhart Cherin, Volleyball (1986-89)
A Second-Team All-American three times from 1987-89, Nancy Brookhart Cherin helped lead the Fighting Illini to back-to-back NCAA Final Four appearances in 1987 and 1988. Brookhart Cherin joined with 2017 Illini Hall of Famer Mary Eggers Tendler to help Illinois win Big Ten titles in 1986, 1987 and 1988, with a combined conference record of 53-1. In 1987, Brookhart Cherin shared Big Ten Most Valuable Player honors with Eggers Tendler and was chosen for the NCAA Mideast Regional All-Tournament Team. Brookhart Cherin was named First-Team All-Big Ten three times between 1987 and 1989 and helped the Illini advance to the NCAA Regional Finals in 1989. During her college career, Illinois had a combined overall record of 124-22, with two Big Ten titles, two Final Four appearances and two other NCAA Regional Finals appearances.
Dave Downey, Men’s Basketball (1961-63)
Elected to the Illini Men’s Basketball All-Century Team in 2004, Dave Downey set the Fighting Illini single-game scoring record of 53 points at Indiana in 1963, which still stands. Downey helped lead Illinois to the 1963 Big Ten championship and earned First-Team All-Big Ten honors that year after receiving Second-Team All-Big Ten recognition in 1961 and 1962. He also earned First-Team All-America honors from the Helms Foundation in 1963. Downey was also an academic star and earned the 1963 Big Ten Medal of Honor for excellence in academics and athletics. His 18.9 career scoring average ranks fourth in the school’s history, and his 11.0 career rebounding average ranks third. Downey finished his time at Illinois as the school’s career leader in points (1,360) and rebounds (790).