Former stars happy to get Hall call

Former stars happy to get Hall call

CHAMPAIGN — Since last June, we've known Lou Henson will headline the next Illinois Athletics Hall of Fame class. On Thursday, the rest of the honorees were named.

Twenty-one in total, including Henson, representing 13 different sports and multiple eras.

When the second gala is held in June 15 at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Henson will be joined by one of his top players. Kendall Gill represents the "Flyin' Illini" in the Hall the year after Nick Anderson was part of the initial class.

All of the honorees were notified in recent weeks by Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman.

Dana Howard, a star linebacker for John Mackovic and Lou Tepper in the early 1990s, is getting used to Hall calls. Earlier in the year, he was selected for the College Football Hall of Fame, becoming the first Illini to make it since David Williams in 2005. Now, he'll join the second class at his alma mater.

"It's good to be loved," Howard said. "It's just as important as the College Football Hall of Fame. If it wasn't for Illinois, I wouldn't be where I am. I'm ecstatic."

Howard appreciates the talents of his classmates.

"They are class acts and some of the greatest athletes I have ever seen," Howard said.

Howard needs to keep his tuxedo handy. He will be a part of the Illinois gala in June, the induction ceremony at State Farm Center on Sept. 22 and the College Football Hall of Fame ceremony in December.

"I've got to make sure I can fit in it," Howard said.

The call from Whitman was an early birthday present for Howard, who turns 46 on Sunday.

"I don't need anything else," Howard said.

Darrin Fletcher becomes the second baseball player honored. He follows Lou Boudreau, who was part of the first class.

"It's a big deal, big honor," Fletcher said. "A lot of great names on that list."

He wasn't expecting the call this soon.

"I told Josh, 'Maybe they'd eventually get down to me at some point,'" he said.

Fletcher is thrilled to part of the class.

"Having Lou on there and Kendall and Dana Howard and Jim Grabowski, it's a nice list," Fletcher said. "It's some cool names and should be a nice party in Chicago."

The Oakwood product has long, strong roots in Illinois baseball. His dad, Tom, and son, Casey, played at the school.

"I've loved this university since I was a boy," Fletcher said. "If there was a Hall of Fame I could make, this would be the one that I would want to make."

Coming out of high school as an underrated player, Fletcher was looking for an opportunity.

"Illinois gave me a chance," Fletcher said. "I was a small-town kid in rural Vermilion County. It's easy to be overlooked, but Illinois gave me a chance."

Fletcher, 51, will have a sizable cheering section at the induction ceremonies.

"It will be a good time," Fletcher said.

In the coming years, Fletcher hopes to be joined in the hall by another Vermilion County star, pitcher Jason Anderson.

"He had a very good collegiate career here," Fletcher said.

Dave Downey, a three-time team MVP in men's basketball, left Illinois as the school's carer leader in points and rebounds. He was a major contributor.

He is one of five from basketball being honored, along with Henson, Gill, Chuck Carney and John "Red" Kerr.

"I'm in good company," Downey said. "These are some of the best players and best folks we've had around here. And not just the basketball ones."

Entering the Hall the same year as Henson adds to the honor.

"Lou was certainly one of the unique Hall of Famers for this place," Downey said, "and I'm honored to be a part of it."

Downey, 76, attended both Hall of Fame ceremonies the first year.

"I thought it was handled extremely well," Downey said. "I think it will be a great ceremony."

When he started his career at Illinois, Downey never dreamed he would someday be considered among the school's athletic elite.

"It's definitely a bonus for me when you think about my background." Downey said. "My dad couldn't read or write. When I came over here, I was just wanting to make sure I could get through school and maybe play some."

Downey established lifetime friendships in college with teammates Bill Small and Bill Burwell.

"We did what we set out to do: We won a Big Ten championship," Downey said. "And all three of us have lived useful lives. It was a good program for us."