Salt Fork heroes

Salt Fork heroes

1. Ron Ellett

SIDELL – Ron Ellett came from a successful high school football program. Jamaica High School was undefeated when he was a senior in 1959.

He went on to Eastern Illinois University, where he lettered in football for three years, the amount of time it took Ellett to earn his degree.

From there, he went to Hampshire High School as the school's first-ever football coach.

"We lost our first game (to Earlville) 60-0," Ellett said. "I wondered what I was doing. After the game, I told their coach, 'I hope one day I have a team that can compete with you.' "

Three years later, that time had arrived. Hampshire defeated Earlville 72-6 and Ellett was on the way to a storied 21-year career as head coach, which included undefeated state championship teams in 1976 and '79.

In high school, Ellett almost didn't play football.

"I was 5-foot, 82 pounds as a freshman," said Ellett, who received some encouragement to report two weeks late.

"The football coach was the basketball coach and he said if I was playing basketball, I should be out for football," he said.

Ellett hit a growth spurt prior to his sophomore season and grew 6 inches and weighed in at 125 pounds. By the time he graduated in 1960, he was 5-7, 145 and "sort of an inspiration to small players."

He earned 13 letters at Jamaica, four in baseball and three each in football, basketball and track. He was a Little All-State selection in football by the Chicago Daily News and earned special mention all-state recognition in basketball. As a senior, Ellett was the Vermilion County scoring leader in both football and basketball.

He headlines the Salt Fork cooperative (athletes from Catlin and Jamaica) all-sports team.

"I was surrounded by a lot of outstanding athletes," Ellett said. "To be considered in the top 10 is very special. In baseball, we beat Danville and Champaign the same year and we had a pitcher, Jim Huchel, who beat (future major-leaguer) Tom Fletcher in a game at Oakwood."

Ellett received the school's award as the top athlete as both a junior and a senior. If circumstances had been different, the honors are ones he might never have earned.

"The one player who might have been the greatest player, Chuck Martin, was killed his sophomore year, coming home from a basketball game at Danville," Ellett said. "He could have been All-State in everything. He was a much better athlete than I was."

Ellett left Hampshire (124-68-3 in 21 years) and coached one season at Elgin (11-2 record in 1984) and was on staff two years at North Park College, one as the head coach before leaving the coaching and teaching profession.

"I started a construction company building houses and the first year, I made more money than in 23 years of teaching and coaching combined," he said. "I miss it, but I've never looked back."

Retired since 2005, Ellett spends six months in Arizona and six months in Illinois. Whereever he's at, he has one goal.

"I try to play 18 holes of golf every day," he said. "I usually walk, to stay in halfway decent shape."

Jeff Campbell

1980-Catlin

The 5-6, 156-pounder rushed for 5,079 career yards in football, a state record when he graduated and currently 11th on the all-time IHSA list. Helped team to playoffs four straight years and 34-8 overall record. Rushed for at least 1,300 yards as a sophomore, junior and senior, gaining 1,470 in his final season. Played football one year at Joliet Junior College.

Toni Collins

1981-Jamaica

Led Cardinals to second at state in 1980 as a 5-11 junior. Made all-tournament team and tied for the overall scoring lead with 74 points in three games. Scored 1,722 points in career. Set school record with a 41-point game (later broken). Lettered at Eastern Illinois.

Joseph Hipple

1942-Catlin

Placed fourth at state in wrestling (155 pounds) in 1941 and placed third at state in 120-yard hurdles in 1942.

J.D. Learnard

2009-Catlin

All-Area in football; Player of the Year in baseball. In football, led the area in passing (2,163 yards and 27 TDs) for a team which advanced to the semifinals in Class 1A. He completed 118 of 203 attempts. In baseball, he fanned 127 batters in 76 innings and won 10 games for a sectional championship team. He also batted .448.

Bill Miller

1973-Jamaica

Intense leader and four-year letter winner in football (running back/quarterback/linebacker), basketball (guard/forward) and track (sprinter/long jumper); lettered all three years school offered baseball (catcher/shortstop). On Bob Moore-coached basketball teams that played in four straight Vermilion County title games, winning the last three (a first in County history). Football teams were 13-2-1 his final two years. In college, lettered three years in basketball at Northeast Missouri State.

Ed Nees

1980-Jamaica

As a senior, set the still standing three-game Vermilion County Tournament basketball scoring mark with 86 points. Scored a Jamaica boys' school record 46 points in one game. Averaged 28.7 points per game as a senior with a school-record 747 points. Point guard also led team in rebounds (317) that year. A 20-point scorer as a junior. Earned at least two all-County awards in golf, track (as a high jumper) and basketball. Also lettered in cross-country. Played basketball for one year at Danville Area Community College.

Jim Reed

1963-Catlin

Four-year starter at quarterback, rushed for 1,357 yards and scored 134 points for 6-2 team as a senior, earning Little All-State honors from the Chicago American. Three-year starter at guard in basketball. Lettered in track. Had football scholarship to Memphis State, but transferred to UI after one semester and lettered in baseball in 1965, '66 and '67 as a third baseman. Started Parkland's baseball program in 1970 and coached Cobras 12 years. Retired in 2000, serving as AD his final 12 years.

Tim Royce

1981-Catlin

Fifth at state in 800 as a senior; as a junior ran on school's only track championship team, 3,200 relay with Rob Mayerik, Kevin Mitchell and Brad Sacre. Helped same relay to third at state as a sophomore. Held Vermilion County meet record in 800 (1:57.8) for more than two decades. His career-best time (1:56.1) ranks among area's all-time top 20. Died at age 18 in an automobile accident, weeks after his graduation. Catlin high school track named in his honor. Had a partial scholarship offer to run track at Eastern Illinois University. A defensive end in football and a wrestler.

Jamie Todd

1996-Jamaica

Scored school-record 51 points in basketball vs. Villa Grove. The 5-5 guard hit 16 of 20 shots from the field and 15 of 17 free throws. She made four three-pointers. Scored 30 points in 1995 super-sectional game. School's career scoring leader (boys or girls) with 1,873 points and helped Cardinals to four regional titles and a 104-11 career record. All-State first team (IBCA) as a junior and as a senior (Associated Press).

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