Longtime Illini fan Drollinger will attend school

Longtime Illini fan Drollinger will attend school

HOOPESTON – Jon Drollinger could have spent his weekends next month touring college campuses from the East Coast to the West.

Instead, the Hoopeston Area senior will stick close to home, just like he did in selecting Illinois as the next stop in his gymnastics career.

"I had some scheduled visits for September, but I just canceled them because I knew I was going to the U of I," Drollinger said Tuesday.

Drollinger recently gavean oral commitment to coach Yoshi Hayasaki''s Illini program and will make it official dur-ing the November signing period.

The Champaign County YMCA gymnast also drew interest from Minnesota, Nebraska, Stanford, Iowa, Illinois-Chicago and the three military academies that offer the sport.

None, however, could match the tangibles and intangibles the UI offered one of its longtime fans.

"Illinois just kind of seems like my school," Drollinger said. "I''ve been around it all my life, and it just seemed like the right place to go.

"It''s very familiar. I know a lot of guys on the team. My sister goes there. I know the area. My parents will be able to come to the meets. It''s just more comfortable."

Besides attending Illini home meets and summer camps for years, Drollinger grew familiar with Hayasaki''s program through its ties to the Champaign County YMCA. Such former and current Illini as J.G. Ketchen and Bob Rogers volunteered their time as coaches for club gymnasts there.

Another former Illini, Kurt Hettinger, was Drollinger''s first coach at the IllinoisGymnastics Center (now Lifelines Gymnastic Center) in Champaign. Drollinger moved to the YMCA program when he was 14, and Hettinger served as his coach there for the past three years.

"He''s pretty much made me the gymnast that I am," Drollinger said.

Drollinger is a four-time qualifier for the USA Gymnastics Junior Olympic National Championships. The past two years, he''s competed in Class 1 (the highest level), placing third nationally in the rings in 2002 and sixth this year. He also was 25th in the all-around in 2002.

Hayasaki, who can''t comment on recruits until they''ve signed, won''t have to wait long for Drollinger. The Cornjerker senior will graduate in December and enter the UI the following month. Drollinger said Hayasaki has indicated the newcomer immediately will compete in the rings and floor exercise and possibly the vault.

"He wants me to work on all the events," Drollinger said. "I could be doing five events by next year. That''s pretty rare on the team."

You can reach Jeff Huth at (217) 351-5384 or via e-mail at jhuth@news-gazette.com.