Sunday, December 3, 2017

Top 10 Athletes From Illinois

December 3, 1818: Illinois is admitted to the Union as the 21st State. Next year will be the State's Bicentennial.

Top 10 Athletes From Illinois

Remember: Some of these will be from the northern, Chicago-leaning half of the State; but some will be from the southern, St. Louis-leaning half. Chicago, by itself, makes Illinois one of the most athletically potent States, up there with New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, Texas and California.

Honorable Mention to Baseball Hall-of-Famers from the State who didn't otherwise make the Top 10: Al Spalding of Byron (we'll never know for sure how the legendary 1870s pitcher and later executive would have done under modern rules), Charles Comiskey of Chicago's St. Ignatius Prep (he was a great player before becoming a rotten team owner), Joe McGinnity of Decatur, Ray Schalk of the St. Louis suburb of Litchfield, "Sunny" Jim Bottomley and Charles "Red" Ruffing of Nokomis, Freddie Lindstrom of Chicago's Loyola Academy, Lou Boudreau of Harvey, Albert "Red" Schoendienst of the St. Louis suburb of Germantown, Robin Roberts of Springfield, and Kirby Puckett of Chicago's Calumet High School.

Jim Thome of the Peoria suburb of Bartonville will almost certainly join them in the election whose results will be announced next month. Rickey Henderson was born in Chicago, but lived in Oakland from age 7 onward, and so was included in the corresponding post I did for California. So was Robin Yount, born in Danville, Illinois, but raised in Los Angeles.

Honorable Mention to Bob Turley of the St. Louis suburb of Troy, who won the World Series Most Valuable Player award in 1958, the year he also became the 1st Yankee to win the Cy Young Award. "Bullet Bob" was also a member of the Yankees' 1961 and 1962 World Champions.

Honorable Mention to Ben Zobrist of Eureka, who was named World Series MVP in 2016, helping the Chicago Cubs finally win the World Series again.

Honorable Mention to Yankee World Series Winners from the State: Ruffing, Turley, Bill "Moose" Skowron of Chicago's Weber High School, Joe Girardi of East Peoria (won 3 World Series as a player and another as manager, let's give credit where it's due), Homer Bush of East St. Louis, and Jerry Hairston Jr. of the Chicago suburb of Naperville.

Honorable Mention to Pro Football Hall-of-Famers from the State who didn't otherwise make the Top 10: John "Paddy" Driscoll of Evanston, George Trafton of the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Tony Canadeo of Chicago's Steinmetz High School, George Connor of Chicago's De La Salle Institute, Kellen Winslow Sr. of East St. Louis, and Kevin Greene of Granite City.

Honorable Mention to Knute Rockne and George Halas, both of Chicago, who were very good football players in their time, the 1910s; but are now far better remembered as coaches who helped to define the sport in the 1920s.

Rockne died in a plane crash in 1931, while his Notre Dame team was the defending National Champion. Halas, for all intents and purposes the founder of the NFL, continued to shape the game into the 1960s, and still owned the Chicago Bears at his death in 1983.

Honorable Mention to Clint Frank of Evanston and Johnny Lattner of Chicago's Fenwick High School, who won the Heisman Trophy, in 1937 at Yale and in 1953 at Notre Dame, respectively.

A Very Honorable Mention to Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard of Chicago's Lane Technical High School. In his day, there weren't many black students, let alone athletes, at Ivy League schools, but he played as a 2-way back at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, helping them reach the 1916 Rose Bowl.

In 1920, he joined the Akron Pros of the brand-new American Professional Football Association, which became the National Football League in 1922. He led the Pros to the 1st NFL Championship. In 1921, he was named the Pros' head coach. Whether the NFL was then a "major league" is debatable, but, if it was, then Fritz Pollard was the 1st black head coach in North American major league sports -- 26 years before Jackie Robinson suited up for the Brooklyn Dodgers, 45 years before Bill Russell in the NBA, 54 years before Frank Robinson in baseball, and 68 years before Art Shell became the 1st black head coach in the modern NFL. He was also the head coach of the Hammond Pros, outside Chicago in Indiana, in 1925.

He would continue to play in the NFL until 1926, after which none of the black players in the League were signed to contracts for 1927. Pro football would then be all-white until 1946. He went into various businesses including newspapers and music production, but was almost forgotten. In 1976, NFL Films did an interview with him as part of their investigation into the League's beginnings.

He died in 1986, having lived long enough to be elected to the College Football Hall of Fame (the 2nd black player so honored, after Duke Slater of Iowa), but not the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was finally elected in 2005.

Honorable Mention to Basketball Hall-of-Famers from the State who didn't otherwise make the Top 10: Pat Page of Chicago, John Schommer of Chicago, Bob Gruenig of Chicago's Crane Tech, Andy Phillip of the St. Louis suburb of Granite City, Harry Gallatin of the St. Louis suburb of Roxana, Jerry Sloan of McLeansboro, and Dan Issel of the Chicago suburb of Batavia.

Honorable Mention to Cappie Pondexter of Chicago's John Marshall High School, one of the greatest players in WNBA history, who now plays for her hometown Chicago Sky. I also include her because she played here in Central Jersey, at Rutgers.

Honorable Mention to Chris Chelios of the Chicago suburb of Evergreen Park, the State's greatest hockey player. Although the 11-time All-Star didn't win the Stanley Cup with his hometown Blackhawks, making the Finals in 1992, he did win it with the 1986 Montreal Canadiens and the 2002 and 2008 Detroit Red Wings -- the 16-year gap being the longest in Cup history.

He won the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman 3 times, and was still playing in the League at age 48, making him 2nd only to Gordie Howe among the oldest NHL players ever. He won the World Cup of Hockey with the U.S. in 1996, and Captained the U.S. team at the 2004 World Cup, and at the Winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998, in Salt Lake City in 2002 (Silver Medal), and Turin in 2006. Although the 'Hawks have not retired his Number 7 (nor did the Habs or Wings retire the Number 24 he wore with them), he is in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Brett Hull of Chicago. Although he was born in Belleville, Ontario, Canada, as was his father, Hall-of-Famer Bobby Hull, a.k.a. "the Golden Jet," "the Golden Brett" grew up in Chicago while Bobby played for the 'Hawks, went to college and played college hockey for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and exercised his right to play for the U.S. team. Canada has never forgiven him.

An 11-time All-Star right wing, he spent the bulk of his career on teams that are rivals to his father's, the St. Louis Blues and the Detroit Red Wings. He won the 1991 Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, and scored 741 goals -- trailing only Wayne Gretzky and Howe (but not his father) at the time of his retirement, and only Jaromir Jagr has surpassed him since. (Jagr has also now surpassed Chelios as the NHl's 2nd-oldest player ever.) He won the Stanley Cup with the 1999 Dallas Stars (scoring a controversial clincher in Game 6 of the Finals), and the 2002 and 2008 Wings.

He and Bobby are the only father and son in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the only such pair to each have 1,000 career points, the only such pair to both have their uniform numbers retired (the Blues retired 16 for him), and the only such pair to both have statues outside their arenas (Bobby in Chicago, Brett in St. Louis). When their teams played each other in the 2017 NHL Winter Classic, the Hulls served as opposing honorary captains.

In an ad for the NHL in Sports Illustrated, he was used as a stand-in for any player known as "The Scorer": "You love the Scorer. You hate the Scorer. You watch the Scorer." Another player used was Adam Oates -- together in St. Louis, the nickname "Hull and Oates" was a natural -- as "The Playmaker." They also used Adam Graves as "The Grinder," Patrick Roy as "The Stopper," and Gretzky as "The Superstar."

Honorable Mention to Jack Root of Chicago, an immigrant from what's now the Czech Republic (born Janos Ruthaly), who is considered the 1st official Light Heavyweight Champion of the World, in 1903.

Honorable Mention to Billy Papke of Spring Valley. "The Illinois Thunderbolt" was briefly Middleweight Champion of the World in 1908.

Honorable Mention to Barney Ross of Chicago, a hero in many ways, in and out of the ring. Although born (as Dov-Ber David Rosofsky) in Manhattan, his father's career as a rabbi led to a move to the West Side of Chicago. He was Lightweight Champion of the World from 1933 to 1935, and was Welterweight Champion of the World from then until 1938. The Ring magazine named him Fighter of the Year for 1935. He might have been the toughest boxer of a very tough era.

He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War II, and won the Silver Star for his heroism at the Battle of Guadalcanal. But the morphine he got to ease the pain of his combat wounds led to a heroin addiction. Long before there was a Betty Ford Center, Barney Ross was one of the earliest people to become famous for beating a drug problem.

The 1957 film Monkey On My Back, based on his memoir, starred Cameron Mitchell. Sylvester Stallone would name his character in the Expendables movies Barney Ross in tribute to a fighter who, while Jewish instead of Italian, was every bit as known for his refusal to give up as Stallone's fictional Rocky Balboa.

Honorable Mention to Ken Norton of the St. Louis suburb of Jacksonville. He learned to box when, like Ross, he served in the Marines, in his case during the early Vietnam years. "The Black Hercules" is best known for his 3 fights with Muhammad Ali, beating him by decision and breaking his jaw in 1973, losing a rematch a few months later, and then, in their only fight for the title, and the main event of the only professional fight card in the renovated version of the original Yankee Stadium (1976-2008), losing a controversial decision. In fact, all 3 decisions with Ali were split.

When Ali lost to Leon Spinks, in what was only Spinks' 9th professional fight, the World Boxing Council refused to recognize Spinks as the Heavyweight Champion of the World. Since they considered Norton to be the man who'd otherwise come the closest to beating Ali (by this point, Joe Frazier was a nonfactor), they recognized Norton as Champion on March 18, 1978. That ended on June 9, when Norton, again with controversy, lost a split decision to Larry Holmes. But, ever since, with a few brief exceptions (Mike Tyson twice and Lennox Lewis once), the heavyweight title has been split.

His son, Ken Norton Jr., was an All-Pro football player. Like Vai Sikahema, he would develop a habit of punching the padding on the goalpost like a heavy bag when he scored a touchdown.

Root, Papke, Ross and Norton have all been elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Johnny Loftus of Chicago. He won the 1916 Kentucky Derby aboard the horse George Smith. He became the 1st jockey to win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes all in the same year, 1919 -- the feat that would become known as the Triple Crown. His horse was Sir Barton.

He also rode Man o' War in his 1st 9 races, winning 8, but losing to the horse named Upset in the Sanford Memorial Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. (The term "upset" to describe an unexpected victory was already in place, but this race cemented it in people's minds.) He was denied a renewal of his license to race for 1920, and retired to become a trainer. He was elected to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Honorable Mention to Oliver McCall of Chicago. "The Atomic Bull" was briefly WBC Heavyweight Champion, from September 24, 1994 (knocking Lennox Lewis out) to September 2, 1995 (losing a decision to Frank Bruno). Among the other fighters he beat were an aging Larry Holmes, Bruce Seldon and Henry Akinwande.

Now, the Top 10:

10. Johnny Weissmuller of Chicago's Lane Technical High School. The swimmer won 3 Gold Medals at the 1924 Olympics in Paris, and 2 more at the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam. But that's not how he's best known: From 1932 to 1948, he starred in 12 films as Tarzan.

Weissmuller pioneered the iconic "Tarzan yell" that has been parodied many times, including in the 1960s by Bill Scott as the voice of cartoon hero George of the Jungle; and in the 1970s by Carol Burnett on The Carol Burnett Show and Judy Graubart as Jennifer of the Jungle on PBS' The Electric Company.

But, due to his thick Austrian accent (not unlike later film action hero Arnold Schwarzenegger), he couldn't be an erudite son of an English lord, as Edgar Rice Burroughs imagined the character. Instead, he spoke broken English, as in, "Me do this, me do that," tainting Tarzan's image forever. But he never said, "Me Tarzan, you Jane" to his love interest, Maureen O'Sullivan's Jane Porter.

9. Jimmy Connors of East St. Louis. So much fuss was made over Connors that it's surprising that he didn't win a lot more. He won 3/4 of the Grand Slam in 1974, but never won the French Open, which, due to its clay surface, is an outlier. He won the Australian Open in 1974; Wimbledon in 1974 and 1982; and the U.S. Open in 1974, 1976, 1978, 1982 and 1983, and probably got more attention for getting to the Semifinals in 1991 at age 39 than for anything else he ever did.

He is a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame. He also seemed to have inspired Pete Rose's late-career hairstyle.

8. George Mikan of Joliet. In 1996, as part of an ESPN discussion on the greatest NBA teams of all time, Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe said you couldn't include Mikan's Minneapolis Lakers team, because they played a different game: The institution of the 24-second shot clock in 1954 ended their dynasty. His description: "George Mikan? A good backup center. Best player of his time. Deserved every accolade he ever got. But today? He's Greg Kite with a hook shot."

So here's what he did in his time: He was named College Basketball Player of the Year for Chicago's DePaul University in 1944 and 1945, leading them to the 1945 NIT title, at a time when that meant more than the NCAA title. The 6-foot-10 Mikan and the 7-foot-even Bob "Foothills" Kurland, who led Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) to the 1945 and 1946 NCAA titles, were the 1st great big men in the sport.

What's that, you say? You've never heard of Kurland? That's because he didn't turn pro, instead working for Phillips Petroleum and playing for the "amateur" team they sponsored, the Phillips 66ers. Mikan turned pro, winning National Basketball league titles with the 1947 Chicago American Gears and the 1948 Lakers. The Lakers then went into the nascent NBA, and he led them to the title in 1949, 1950, 1952, 1953 and 1954. That's 7 league titles in 8 seasons.

He was NBL Most Valuable Player in 1948, a 5-time scoring champion (twice in the NBL, 3 times in the NBA), and played in the NBA's 1st 4 All-Star Games (1951-54). He was bigger than the league: A game against the Knicks had the marquee at the old Madison Square Garden not mention the Lakers, just him: "GEO MIKAN v/s KNICKS."

DePaul retired his Number 99. Oddly, the Lakers never have, even though 99 is a number rarely seen in the NBA. (They do have a banner honoring their Minneapolis-era Hall-of-Famers.) He was named the greatest basketball player of the half-century by the Associated Press, and was named to the NBA's 25th Anniversary Team and its 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players. He lived long enough to receive all of these honors.

7. Ray Nitschke of the Chicago suburb of Elmwood Park. He starred as a linebacker at the University of Illinois, so you'd think the Chicago Bears would have gone for him. They didn't. Big mistake: Instead, their arch-rivals, the Green Bay Packers, did. He was a 6-time All-Pro, and helped them win 5 NFL Championships: 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967, including the 1st 2 Super Bowls.

The Packers retired his Number 66. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame, the NFL's 1960 All-Decade Team, the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team, The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999 (18th), and the NFL Network's 100 Greatest Players in 2010 (47th).

6. Isiah Thomas of Chicago and St. Joseph High School of neighboring Westchester. His messy personal life and his disastrous runs as an NBA coach and executive are not factors here. This is based solely on what he did as a player.

The guard won a National Championship under Bobby Knight at Indiana in 1981, being named the Tournament's Most Outstanding Player. A 12-time All-Star in his 13 seasons with the Detroit Pistons, he led them to the NBA Championship in 1989 and 1990, winning the Bill Russell Award as Finals MVP in 1990. (Also from Illinois and winning that award: Dwyane Wade of Chicago and the 2006 Miami Heat, and Andre Iguodala of Springfield and the 2015 Golden State Warriors.)

The Pistons retired his Number 11, and he was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame and the NBA's 50th Anniversary 50 Greatest Players.

5. Dick Butkus of Chicago Vocational High School. He was a victim of timing: Although he was with Illinois, enabling him to help them win the 1963 Big Ten title, he not only arrived with the Chicago Bears just as they were ending a strong era, but his playing career included the era in which the NFL, including the Bears in 1971, was switching to artificial turf, which wrecked his knees. As a result, he never played in so much as a Playoff game, and played his last game when he was only 31 years old.

Which makes his legendary reputation all the more remarkable. He was named Big Ten Most Valuable Player in 1963, as both a center and a linebacker -- an offensive lineman and a defensive player. That alone is astounding. He played 9 seasons in the NFL, and was named to the Pro Bowl in 8 of them. He was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1969 and 1970, despite the Bears going just 1-13 and 6-8 in those seasons.

He was named to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, the NFL's 1960s and 1970s All-Decade Teams (he and Larry Wilson were the only men named to both), and the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team. Illinois retired his Number 50, and the Bears retired his Number 51.

The NCAA created the Butkus Award to honor the best linebacker of the season. In 1999, The Sporting News named him Number 9 on its list of the 100 Greatest Football Players, 2nd only to Lawrence Taylor among defensive players. On the CBS special honoring those players, NFL Today analyst and former coach Jerry Glanville, who specialized on defense, called him the greatest football player he ever saw. Not the greatest defender, the greatest player.

In 2008, ESPN ranked Butkus 19th on their list of the Top 25 College Football Players of All Time. In 2010, the NFL Network ranked him Number 10 on its list of the 100 Greatest Players, again trailing only Taylor on defense.

He remains, even more than L.T., Mean Joe Greene and Ray Lewis, the last word in mean, hard-hitting defensive football players, the definitive Chicago "Monster of the Midway." Sylvester Stallone named one of his dogs Butkus, and even cast the dog as Rocky Balboa's dog in Rocky, keeping the name "Butkus."

All of which made it all the more fun when Dick Butkus became an actor, including starring alongside fellow defensive behemoth Bubba Smith in Miller Lite beer commercials. Deacon Jones, another contender for the titles of greatest and meanest defensive player ever, and who also did some Miller Lite commercials, said, "Dick was an animal. I called him a maniac. A stone maniac. He was a well-conditioned animal, and every time he hit you, he tried to put you in the cemetery, not the hospital."

4. Otto Graham of Waukegan. He starred in baseball, football and basketball at Northwestern University, and played pro basketball. But it's as one of the greatest quarterbacks ever that he is remembered. He was named Big Ten Player of the Year in 1943, although, at the time, Northwestern football wasn't yet the epochal disaster it became in the late 1970s.

He played 10 professional seasons, all with the Cleveland Browns, the 1st 4 in the All-America Football Conference, the last 6 in the NFL -- and brought them to their league's championship game in all 10 seasons.

He led the Browns to all 4 AAFC titles: 1946, 1947, 1948 and 1949. He led the Browns to the NFL Championship in 1950, 1954 and 1955. He was an 8-time Pro Bowler (3 in the AAFC, 5 in the NFL), and a 5-time league MVP (twice in the AAFC, 3 times in the NFL).

Although he wore Number 60 at the beginning of his career, he switched to Number 14, and that's the number the Browns retired for him. He was named to the College and Pro Football Halls of Fame, the NFL's 1950s All-Decade Team, and the NFL's 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams. In 1999, The Sporting News named him 7th on its list of the 100 Greatest Football Players. In 2010, the NFL Network ranked him 16th on its list of the 100 Greatest Players.

When you talk about the greatest quarterbacks of all time, you can mention Sammy Baugh, Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, Joe Montana and Peyton Manning -- but you'd better also include Otto Graham, pro football's ultimate winner. And he is not known to have ever cheated, unlike Tom Brady.

3. Harold "Red" Grange of the Chicago suburb of Wheaton. The 2-way back led the University of Illinois to the National Championship in 1923, then dedicated their Memorial Stadium the next year with a 6-touchdown performance against Michigan.

The following year, he became the 1st real star of professional football, following Halas' path from the Illini to the Chicago Bears, drawing crowds that, essentially, saved the NFL from going under after only 6 seasons -- making him easily the most influential athlete on this list, and maybe the single most important player in NFL history.

"The Galloping Ghost" got his knee injured in a tackle by the aforementioned George Trafton in a 1927 game (he had left the Bears, for whom Trafton played, but would return to them), but, like many great athletes who lost their speed, raised their game on defense. He helped the Bears win the 1st 2 NFL Championship Games, in 1932 and 1933, in a backfield with Bronko Nagurski. Just as Nagurski was the prototype for the big bruising fullback, so was Grange the one for the speedy halfback.

He was a charter inductee into both the College and the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He was named to the NFL's 1920s All-Decade Team. Football used uniform numbers earlier than baseball and basketball (although hockey preceded them), and so the Number 77 that Grange wore with both the Fighting Illini and the Bears became sports' 1st iconic uniform number, and both retired it. In 1969, he was the only unanimous choice on the 100th Anniversary All-America Team. He lived long enough to receive all of these honors.

After his death in 1991, he was ranked 80th on The Sporting News' 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999, named the greatest player in college football history by ESPN in 2008, had a statue of him dedicated outside Illinois' Memorial Stadium in 2009, was named to the NFL's 100 Greatest Players by the NFL Network in 2010 (ranked 48th, actually gaining 32 places in the intervening 11 years), and was named the Big Ten Conference's greatest sports icon by the Big Ten Network in 2011. Keep in mind, most of those honoring him had never seen him play, as he played his last NFL game in 1934, and there is precious little surviving footage of him.

In spite of all of those achievements, my top 2 athletes from Illinois are women:

2. Bonnie Blair of Champaign. The speed skater is the most decorated female athlete in Winter Olympic history, winning 5 Gold Medals: 1 in 1988 in Calgary, 2 in 1992 in Albertville, France, and 2 in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway.

In 1994, she and fellow speed skater Johan Olav Koss of Norway were co-awarded Sportsperson of the Year by Sports Illustrated. Other Illinoisians to win the award have been Mike Myers of the Chicago suburb of Crystal Lake, as one of the 2004 Boston Red Sox; Dwyane Wade of Chicago and Richards High School of neighboring Oak Lawn, in 2006; and Mike Krzyzewski of Chicago's Archbishop Weber High School, sharing it in 2011 with fellow coaching legend Pat Summitt.

In 1992, Blair was awarded the James E. Sullivan Memorial Award for amateur athlete of the year. Other Illinoisians to win it have been the Rev. Bob Richards of Champaign in 1951, Gold Medalist in the pole vault at the 1952 and 1956 Olympics; John Kinsella of the Chicago suburb of Hinsdale in 1970, a Gold Medalist in swimming at the 1972 Olympics; distance runner Rick Wohlhuter of the Chicago suburb of St. Charles in 1974; John Naber of the Chicago suburb of Evanston in 1977, winner of 4 Gold Medals in swimming at the 1976 Olympics; Evan Lysaceck of Naperville in 2010, winner of the Gold Medal in men's figure skating at the 2010 Winter Olympics; Lauren Carlini of the Chicago suburb of Geneva, a volleyball star; and the 1986 honoree, who is my choice for Number 1:

1. Jackie Joyner-Kersee of East St. Louis. She was born on March 3, 1962, the day after Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in a single NBA game. That isn't what inspired her to play basketball, although she was a fine player at UCLA.

In 1975, at age 13, she saw a documentary about Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the greatest female athlete of the 1st half of the 20th Century, whose specialty was track & field. That did inspire the eventual JJK to become the greatest female athlete of the 2nd half of the 20th Century.

She won the Silver Medal in the heptathlon -- the 7-contest event that is the feminine equivalent of the 10-contest decathlon -- at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. She won the Gold Medal in it at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. She still holds the world record for points in the event. She also won the long jump. In 1992, at Barcelona, she won the heptathlon again, and the Bronze Medal in the long jump. She won the Bronze in the long jump again in Atlanta in 1996. That's 6 medals in 2 events over 4 Olympics.
Maybe they should have made her wear the medals
in the races and jumps, just to make it
a little more fair to the other competitors.

In 1984-85, she was awarded the Honda-Broderick Cup as the best female collegiate athlete of the schoolyear. Other Illinoisians to win it have been Stanford volleyball player Ogonna Nnamani of Normal in 2004-05, and Tennessee basketball player Candace Parker of Naperville in 2007-08.

Her brother is Olympic triple jump Gold Medalist Al Joyner, who was married to another Gold Medalist, Florence Griffith Joyner. Jackie married her coach, Bob Kersee. One of the stops on the East St. Louis portion of St. Louis' MetroLink light rail service is named for her.

Sports Illustrated named her the greatest female athlete of all time, and she was named to the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) Hall of Fame for her contributions to track & field. She is now on the board of directors for USA Track & Field, which covers the sport in America.

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