Mahomet-Seymour, Centennial ready to enshrine notable alums


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Come Sept. 22, Jim Risley can get rid of the 3-inch-thick binders, folders filled with documents, large blue-and-orange banner and boxes filled with crystal trophies scattered about his large log-cabin home on the outskirts of Mahomet — and the dozens of others who have worked alongside him these past couple years to form Mahomet-Seymour High School's first hall of fame can breathe a sigh of relief.

The new installation will honor elite former students who excelled in athletics, performing arts and service, as well as distinguished alumni.

"The school's got a profound history in all of these areas, and that's what we wanted to do — we wanted to honor all those areas, and deservedly so," Risley said.

Similar things are happening down the road at Centennial High in Champaign, where athletic director Tony Millard spearheaded a group to form that school's athletics hall of fame, which will be celebrated in early 2018.

For years at both schools, staff, alumni and community members have presented the idea of starting halls of fame to celebrate their rich histories, but a lot more goes into making it happen than many realize.

At M-S, school foundation board members Tom Porter and Derek Halfar got to work in earnest in 2015 to get the idea of a hall of fame off and running before bringing Risley, who taught and coached in the district for 34 years before retiring in 2014, into the fold. They suggested it, and Porter then put together the bylaws.

He researched halls of fame at more than 20 other schools across the state and formed Mahomet-Seymour's based on what he compiled.

"You look at how others have done something, get a sense of it and flavor your product," Risley said. "We're going to be a little unique, but we've taken a little bit from others to design what we want without trying to copy somebody."

At Centennial, Millard asked around and took a look at the bylaws Urbana and Champaign Central use for their halls. He also got some feedback from other athletic directors in the Big 12 Conference. Then, it was onto forming a committee to help select the honorees.

"We have former coaches, former athletes, Centennial grads; everybody has some sort of tie to Centennial," Millard said of his nine-member committee. "We have a couple of staff members who still have the close ties to the high school and other people who have been around Centennial for a long time and have the passion for Centennial High School."

From there, Millard, along with some student workers and secretaries, did research on former all-staters, all-Americans and state qualifiers in individual sports to form a list of names from which to choose the hall-of-famers. Then it came to deciding on a number of honorees for that inaugural class.

"You want your first class to be elite because they are going to be that first class. But you also don't want to go overboard and have too many," Millard said. "That was a debate that went back and forth over the course of multiple committee meetings."

The committee then voted on it, figuring the cream would rise, and when Centennial inducts its first class, it will feature between 10 and 12 members.

"I don't think it's going to be shocking when we publicly release the first class," Millard said.

Mahomet-Seymour will induct eight during its homecoming weekend later this month, with the honorees taking part in the parade before being feted at the football game against Mattoon. They will be coming from all parts of the country including California, Florida, Ohio and Wyoming.

"Some halls are very elaborate with a huge dinner, but these people are coming from so far, they're just jetting through, so we didn't want to keep them overnight," Risley said. "They're going to be in our parade and they've all embraced it. That was very refreshing to me."

As far as how the hall-of-famers will be recognized at the high school, M-S has come up with a unique approach. Instead of hanging plaques for each person on a wall, a computerized system called Touch Pro will adorn the wall inside the school forum, featuring an interactive screen where people can click on and search for inductees. It will feature photos, bios and lists of accomplishments that can be continuously updated and accessed online from anywhere.

"The hall-of-famers have already seen their mock-ups, and they can tell us what they like and don't like and we can adjust it based on that," Risley said.