UI rolls out red carpet for its former wheelchair athletic stars

UI rolls out red carpet for its former wheelchair athletic stars

CHAMPAIGN – A school always ahead of its time when it comes to wheelchair athletics has caught up with its past.

Illinois, which in 1977 became the first school to award letters in adapted varsity sports, decided to honor the pre-1977 athletes.

In a campus ceremony, 96 former Illini were awarded letters. The school presented the letters in plaque form, though the letter winners had an option to have it placed on a jacket.

"What meant a lot to me was the fact that the university took the time and effort to recognize the former athletes," said Kim Pollock, a standout in basketball, swimming and track. "That was certainly something they didn''t have to do and it was something that none of us expected, but it was very, very worthwhile. For the people who came back, every single one of them was overwhelmed by the red carpet that had been rolled out. I give the university great kudos for what they did."

The ceremony gave the former Illinois athletes a chance to revisit old friends. Many hadn''t seen each other in 30-plus years.

What first hit Pollock and former track, swimming and basketball standout Rich Feltes was how well life had gone for the athletes after college.

Doctors, lawyers and CEOs dotted the list of returnees.

"It was very encouraging to see and hear about that," Pollock said.

"Everybody seemed to be fully appreciative that what they had accomplished could not have been possible without the springboard start we had at Illinois in that wheelchair athletic program," Feltes said. "It thrust us out into the public eye and made us goodwill ambassadors not only for the university rehab center but the disabled in general."

Pollock and Feltes are two of the after-college success stories. Pollock retired after a career in information systems with the biotech industry. His last job was as director of corporate information systems at Amgen.

For three years, Pollock and his wife, Shelly, have cruised across North America in an RV. When reached Friday, Pollock was in the northeast corner of Maine, about to cross into Canada. He will spend the summer north of the border.

Feltes hasn''t put his briefcase away just yet. He is the vice president and director of a research department for the world''s largest commodities brokerage firm. He lives in the Chicago suburbs.

Sports helped both reach their life goals.

"For me, it instilled an ability to turn my self-consciousness into self-confidence and an ability to see the rewards that were attainable through excellence and hard work and striving to be the best you can be," Feltes said. "I''ve tried to apply those early lessons learned at Illinois into my professional life. And they have served me very well."

Illinois has pushed other schools to improve their programs. At Texas, full scholarships now are offered to wheelchair athletes.

The former athletes point to one man for getting it all going: Dr. Tim Nugent. He was the founder and longtime director of the Illinois Division of Rehabilitation-Education Services. Current UI men''s and women''s basketball coach Mike Frogley compares what Nugent did for wheelchair athletics to what James Naismith did for basketball.

Nugent''s work wasn''t done without roadblocks.

"Back then, the prevailing feelings were that disabled students belonged behind closed doors," Pollock said. "The prevailing feeling was they would demoralize the other students. That was a whole different world back then. They''ve got senators and representatives and CEOs and judges and doctors who have come out of Tim''s program. It''s clearly been a huge success."

The work isn''t done, Feltes said. He would like to see more funding for the wheelchair program at Illinois, with the athletic scholarships provided. And he wants even greater understanding from the campus community.

"At the end of the day, for the rehab center to be successful, it really needs to be put out of business," Feltes said. "The disabled need to be so fully accepted and integrated there that there''s no need for a special agency at the university to be an advocate. I don''t think we''re there yet. They''ve made a lot of progress since I graduated in 1970."

Take a letter

The following wheelchair athletes were honored by Illinois, receiving letters for their participation from 1948 to ''76:

Paul R. Ahrens, New Berlin, Wis.; Joseph F. Arcese, Denver; Robert Arnold, Normal; John H. Auby, Sparta, Wis.; Cheryl E. Baker, Underhill, Vt.

Thomas C. Barnard, Champaign; Barry F. Baron, Bourbonnais; Judith A. Benoit, San Jose, Calif.*; Marvin L. Berron, Fort Wayne, Ind.; Barbara J. Black, Greencastle, Ind.

Lester D. Blankenship, St. Petersburg, Fla.; Michael S. Boddy, Orland Park; Wayne H. Broeren, Altamont*; Thomas R. Brown, San Antonio; Vincent J. Caputo, Orland Park*

Ella M. Chafee, Oak Lawn; Marguerite H. Chafee, Downers Grove; Charles F. Chapman, Chicago; Jack Chase, Corvallis, Ore.; Stephen J. Chess, Ventura, Calif.*

George Conn, Sarasota, Fla.; Clifford D. Crase, Phoenix; Randall B. Dagis, Rockford; Charles Dahncke Jr., Danville; Charles W. Donnel, Decatur

Robert N. Drew, St. Joseph; Daniel G. Dropko, Vermilion, Ohio; Joanna L. Dunn, Ridgecrest, Calif.; Merlyn G. Earnest, Springfield; Anne G. Edwards, Columbia, Mo.

Vincent R. Falardeau, Holyoke, Mass.; Richard J. Feltes, Lisle; Elizabeth A. Fetter, St. Paul, Minn.; Frank J. Fiorello, Las Vegas; Michael D. Goodling, Harrisburg, Pa.*

Jean H. Gould, College Station, Texas*; C. Benjamin Graham, Seattle; Susan C. Hagel, Shorewood, Minn.; Judith A. Harris, Helena, Mont.; Timothy M. Harris, Helena, Mont.

Robert C. Hawkes, Jacksonville, Fla.; Ernest S. Hodge, Kennesaw, Ga.; John H. Holliman, Oklahoma City; Earl Huston III, Glenwood Springs, Colo.; Judith A. Huston, Glenwood Springs, Colo.

Paul E. Ingle, Denver*; Thomas L. Jones, Champaign; Robert T. Kaloupek, Grinnell, Iowa; Bruce L. Karr, Boynton Beach, Fla.; Leon C. Keller, Huntsville, Ala.

Gerald W. Kortness, Spooner, Wis.; Larry K. Labiak, Chicago; Marvin J. Lapicola, Schaumburg; Carl G. Lewis, Palatine; Charles A. Linster, Chicago

Janet E. Little, Janesville, Wis.; Conny J. Mason, Quincy; Lawrence E. Maus, Austin, Minn.; James D. McKean, Ames, Iowa; Evelyn M. Moore, Loxahatchee, Fla.*

H. Dean Nosker, Chesterfield, Mo.; Robert J. Ocvirk, Blacklick, Ohio; Alfred G. Oelschlegel, Cape Coral, Fla.; Burdette Orris, Eldridge, Iowa; Edward S. Owen, Alpharetta, Ga.

Parviz Parhami, Redondo Beach, Calif.; Ralph E. Patzke, Champaign; Glenwood R. Perkins, Leesburg, Fla.; Kim C. Pollock, Sioux Falls, S.D.; Dwight W. Pulsfus, Sauk City, Wis.*

Diana B. Richardson, Naples, Fla.; Alberta L. Richetelle, New Britain, Conn.; Randall C. Rimnac, Oak Forest; Sidney S. Rosenbloom, Los Angeles; Donald W. Seifferth, Dayton, Ohio

Dane G. Shank, Painesville, Ohio; Basel B. Sheets, Virginia Beach, Va.; Charles O. Sheridan, Trenton, Mich.; Paul D. Sones, Harwich, Mass.; David C. Stanger, Mount Prospect

Ronald A. Stein, O''Fallon; Harry E. Stewart, Brownsburg, Ind.; William Stewart, Modesto; Donald W. Swift, Savoy; Carl Suter, Bethesda, Md.

James N. Taylor, Lombard; Robert E. Trotter, Chicago; Donald H. Vandello, Walworth, Wis.; George F. Veenstra, Springfield; Rodney J. Vlieger, Altoona, Iowa

Jerry R. Voigt, Cheyenne, Wyo.; Tom L. Weber, Olney; Jack Whitman, Champaign; Leland G. Wise, Urbana; Carol A. Wooledge, Cincinnati; Ronald R. Young, Lincoln*

* – Awarded posthumously

You can reach Bob Asmussen at (217) 351-5233 or via e-mail atrasmusse@news-gazette.com.