Hall of Famers
Athletics Director, 1992–2011
Ron Guenther was an offensive lineman for the Fighting Illini from 1963 to 1966, earning team MVP, Second-Team All–Big Ten and First-Team Academic All–Big Ten honors in 1966. After serving as an offensive line coach at Boston College and head football coach at North Central College in Naperville, Ill., during the 1970s, Guenther returned to Illinois in 1988 as interim athletics director. He became the University’s 17th athletics director in 1992, holding the post until his retirement in 2011. Under his 19-year tenure, Illinois captured 34 Big Ten Championships, and made one men’s basketball Final Four appearance and six bowl appearances, including the Sugar Bowl and Rose Bowl. Long considered one of the top athletics fundraisers in the U.S., Guenther continued to work with the Big Ten Conference as a consultant after his retirement, soliciting gift commitments totaling more than $300 million toward capital improvements at Illinois. Guenther was inducted into the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and resides in Champaign.
KEN “SNAKE” NORMAN
Named to the Illini All-Century Team in 2004, Ken “Snake” Norman earned First-Team All–Big Ten honors in 1986 and 1987, leading his team in scoring and rebounding. The Fighting Illini made NCAA Tournament appearances in all three seasons that Norman wore the Orange and Blue. He made school history by making 61 percent of his shots from the field, and set an Illini single-season record in 1986 when he made 64 percent of his shots. During his senior season in 1987, Norman averaged 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, earning Second-Team Consensus All-American honors. After graduation, Norman was picked in the first round by the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1987 NBA Draft. He spent six seasons with the Clippers, followed by a season with the Milwaukee Bucks and four seasons with the Atlanta Hawks before retiring in 1997. He scored a total 8,717 points (an average of 13.5 points per game) during his NBA career and grabbed 3,949 rebounds (a 6.1 per-game average). Norman lives in Las Vegas.
Linda Metheny enrolled at Illinois following her participation in the 1964 Olympics, joining the Illini gymnastics team as its only female member. She won seven intercollegiate championships in the era before the establishment of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women and women’s NCAA. Metheny won a combined total of seven gold, three silver and one bronze medal at the Pan American Games in 1967 and 1971, including a record five gold medals in 1967. In addition, Metheny competed in the 1968 and 1972 Olympics and achieved a tie for fourth on the beam in 1968, making her the first American woman to make the finals in an Olympic gymnastics event. After retiring from competition, Metheny became a gymnastics coach and judge. She married her coach, Dick Mulvihill, in 1973; that same year, they opened the National Academy of Artistic Gymnastics in Eugene, Ore., where she still lives. Metheny-Mulvihill was inducted into the U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1985.
JONELLE POLK McCLOUD
The winner of the women’s 1987 Big Ten Medal of Honor, Jonelle Polk was named All–Big Ten three times—twice to First-Team and once to Second-Team. At 6′-3″, Polk finished her Illini career setting school records in points (1,984) and rebounds (933), both of which stood for more than a decade. She also was Illinois’ all-time scoring leader for both men and women until the 1993–94 season. She still holds two of the top six scoring season records in school history and ranks sixth in school history for blocked shots. She also was twice named Kodak All–District IV. After graduating from Illinois, Polk played professionally in Europe for four seasons, returning to earn a master’s degree at Northern Illinois University, while serving as a graduate assistant for the Huskies women’s basketball team. She went on to coach at Florida State University, and then returned to her hometown of Peoria, Ill., when she was offered a coaching position at Bradley University. Polk McCloud was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2009.
The No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 1990, Jeff George enjoyed a 12-year professional football career after his collegiate successes. During his two seasons at Illinois, George threw for 4,995 yards and 31 touchdowns. He set the Fighting Illini single-season record with 22 touchdown passes in 1989, which still stands as the tied third-place record. He was named Second-Team All–Big Ten in 1988, First-Team All–Big Ten in 1989 and earned Honorable Mention All-American honors in 1989. That same year, George won the Sammy Baugh Trophy, awarded annually to the nation’s top college passer. Under Head Coach John Mackovic, George led the Fighting Illini to victory in the 1990 Citrus Bowl in his final college game, giving Illinois a 10-2 record for the season. George lives in Indianapolis.
Track and Field, 1974-77
Charlton Ehizuelen came to Illinois from Nigeria to become the greatest jumper in Illini history. In his first meet, he set the Big Ten long-jump record at 25′-9½”, one-half inch past the previous mark set by Jesse Owens 39 years earlier. That same day, he triple-jumped 53′-11¾”, setting Big Ten and NCAA records. He was the NCAA Outdoor Champion in the triple jump in 1974 and in the long jump in 1975, becoming the first African to win either title. He also won the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships in the long jump in 1976 and 1977, graduating from Illinois as a nine-time All-American. More than four decades after his collegiate career, Ehizuelen’s long-jump and triple-jump marks still stand as Illini records.
As a U.S. Olympian, Werner Holzer finished sixth in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Games, as well as fourth in freestyle wrestling at the 1966 World Wrestling Championships. Holzer was an All-American at Illinois, winning Big Ten titles in 1957 to compile an overall college career record of 71-7. He helped to establish the U.S. Wrestling Federation. Holzer was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1993, and passed away in 2018 at age 81.
Arguably the most complete softball player to ever wear a Fighting Illini uniform, Danielle Zymkowitz excelled at the plate, on the bases and with the glove. She was a National Fastpitch Coaches Association Third-Team All-American in 2009 and 2011, and a three-time NFCA Midwest All-Region First Team selection from 2009 to 2011. For all three of those years, Zymkowitz was named All–Big Ten First-Team and Academic All–Big Ten, also serving as team captain her final three seasons. Zymkowitz is the Illini record holder in batting average (.384), stolen bases (91), runs (202) and hits (277). She ranks second in triples with 13 and stolen-base percentage (.858, 91-106). Her batting average of .425 in 2011 ranks third in school history, her 59 runs scored in 2010 ranks second, and her 36 stolen bases in 2010 remains the school record. Zymkowitz is currently the associate head softball coach for the Wisconsin Badgers of Madison, and plays professionally for the Chicago Bandits in the National Pro Fastpitch League.
Coach, Men’s Basketball, 1947-67
Leading one of the most successful eras in Fighting Illini basketball history, Head Coach Harry Combes set a school record for wins (316-150) that stood until Head Coach Lou Henson broke it in 1990. Combes’ teams won four Big Ten titles (1949, 1951, 1952, 1963) and made three NCAA Final Four appearances (1949, 1951, 1952), finishing in third place all three of those years. Combes also starred as an Illini player from 1935 to 1937, helping Illinois to achieve Big Ten titles in 1935 under Coach Craig Ruby and in 1937 under Coach Doug Mills. Combes was All-Conference as an Illini forward and guard in 1936 and 1937, earning Second-Team All–Big Ten recognition in 1936 and First-Team All–Big Ten honors in 1937. Combes was voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1974 and passed away in 1977 at age 62.
JODY ALDERSON BRASKAMP
Swimming, early 1950s
Jody Alderson was a bronze medalist in the 4 x 100-meter freestyle relay in the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, and finished fifth in the 100-meter freestyle, three-tenths of a second behind the winner. According to the official time clock, she finished in a three-way tie for third, but the judges awarded her fifth place. While attending Illinois, Alderson set a world record in the 100-yard freestyle in 1954 and was a member of the Amateur Athletic Union national championship relay teams in 1952 and 1953. Alderson retired from competitive swimming after her marriage in 1954, and passed away in 2021 at age 85.
As the first two-sports star in Illini women’s athletics, Becky Beach also was the University’s first women’s golf gold medalist, winning the Big Ten title in 1976. She won the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women State Championship in golf in 1976 and 1977, and competed at the 1976 AIAW National Championship Tournament. Beach also lettered in basketball from 1976 to 1978, helping the Illini to records of 15-10, 15-9 and 9-9 over three seasons. She led the Illini in scoring in 1976 and 1977, averaging 13.4 and 14.3 points per game, respectively. Beach also led the Illini in rebounding in 1977 with an average of 9.5, as well as in assists in 1977 and 1978 with respective averages of 2.6 and 2.8. Beach lives in Champaign.
The first Black football captain of the Fighting Illini, Bill Burrell finished fourth in Heisman Trophy voting and was a consensus All-American senior linebacker in 1959. The Chicago Tribune further honored Burrell that year with its Silver Football Award as the Big Ten’s MVP. Burrell was a three-time First-Team All–Big Ten selection and earned All-American honors in 1958. He was drafted by the AFL Buffalo Bills in 1960, as well as in the fifth round of the NFL Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, but chose to join the Canadian Football League. Burrell played five seasons for the Saskatchewan Roughriders as a linebacker and offensive guard and was the team’s nominee for the 1960 Schenley Award as Outstanding Lineman. In 1990, he was named to the Illinois All-Century Football Team. Burrell died in 1998 at age 61, and in 2017, the football field at Central High School in his hometown of Clifton, Ill., was named Bill Burrell Field.
Track and Field, 1993-96
Dawn Riley was an eight-time All-American and a seven-time Big Ten champion for the Illinois women’s track and field team, winning the Big Ten Medal of Honor in 1996. She helped the Illini win Big Ten indoor track and field titles in 1993, 1995 and 1996, and an outdoor track and field title in 1995. Altogether, the Illini were runners-up in every Big Ten Championship they didn’t win during Riley’s four years at the U of I. Illinois also had two top-five finishes at the NCAA Outdoor Championships in both 1995 and 1996. In the individual wins category, Riley finished third in the 55-meter hurdles in the 1996 NCAA Indoor meet and sixth in the 100-meter hurdles in the Outdoor meet that year. She also finished fourth in the Indoor NCAA 800-meter in 1995.
Representing Canada, Emily Zurrer helped her squad to a bronze medal in the 2012 London Olympics, her second Olympic Games appearance. She became the first Illini soccer player to compete in the Olympics in 2008 when she joined the Canadian squad in Beijing, starting all four games. While at Illinois, Zurrer earned All-American honors three consecutive years (2006–08) and was a First-Team All–Big Ten selection her final three seasons after being named to the All-Freshman squad in 2005. She also was named Big Ten Co-Defensive Player of the Year her sophomore season. During her tenure as a Fighting Illini defender, the team had 42 shutouts and gave up the third-fewest goals in program history in 2008, allowing just 19. Zurrer helped the Illini make four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including Sweet 16 berths in 2006 and 2008. In her senior year, Zurrer was the 2009 Big Ten Medal of Honor selection from Illinois. She played professionally in Canada, Germany, Sweden and the U.S., and now works as a realtor in British Columbia, Canada.
Women’s Track and Field Coach, 1970
Considered a pioneer in women’s track and field, Nell Jackson led the Illini women’s track and field team to the 1970 Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women National Championship, following a long championship career of her own. While still a student at Tuskegee (Ala.) Institute, Jackson was a member of the 1948 U.S. Olympics team, and competed in the first Pan American Games in 1951. Following her competitive career, Jackson returned to Tuskegee in 1953 to coach women’s track and field and to launch—and coach—the men’s swimming program in 1958. She went on to coach track and field at Illinois State University, Michigan State University and the University of Iowa, in addition to Illinois. Jackson was the first Black coach to be named head coach of a U.S. Olympic team, men’s or women’s, serving as the women’s track and field head coach in 1956 and 1972. She also was the first Black woman to serve on the U.S. Olympic Committee’s board of directors. Jackson was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1989.