Coach Changnon according to Rayvonte Rice

Coach Changnon according to Rayvonte Rice

On Saturday night, the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation honors four local legends at its annual gala:

Distinguished Alumni: Jim Wicks (Central '81), Bhavia Wagner (Urbana '74).

Local Hero: Marc Changnon (Central '70).

Local Business Community Impact: Paul Tatman (Urbana '58).

As a shy, budding basketball star, Rayvonte Rice showed promise. But the son of a single parent who worked multiple jobs, the sixth-grader didn't have a ride home from practices or games. Enter Marc Changnon, then the Edison Middle School coach, who became the primary male influence in the future Illini's life. With his mentor set to be honored as a "Local Hero," we asked Rice to put into words what Changnon has meant to him.

Coach Changnon has been with me for a good part of my life. He's always been a guy who has been by my side, had my back and has just been a positive influence in my life. When I got to know him, I was only in sixth grade. I wasn't allowed to play up on the seventh-grade team but I hung around his practices and worked out with the team, even though I couldn't play. For him to allow me to spend that time around the team was huge for me. It helped me get an upper hand with basketball that next year.

To that point in my life, I hadn't had many male figures in my life. My mom had always played the role of Mom and Dad as a single parent. My mom and my stepmom Lisa were always there for me and then later on, Coach Changnon became that male figure I really needed.

Having a close relationship with a coach like that helped me in high school and it's helping me now with Coach (John) Groce and the staff here at Illinois. It has allowed me to buy into what they're teaching and accept coaching better than I might have otherwise.

It's really helped me become a better young man and a better basketball player.

I don't even really like to think of where I might be without his influence in my life. He kept me on the right path and pointed in the right direction all my life. And here I am now, playing for my dream school and getting a great education. Coach Changnon and I always talked about me becoming an Illini, and here we are.

He's certainly been a big, big part in helping me get here and I could never thank him enough for that.

— Rayvonte Rice as told to staff writer Marcus Jackson