Latest Hall of Fame class features 16 decorated former UI athletes and coaches

 

Listen to this article

CHAMPAIGN — The latest Illinois athletics Hall of Fame class will receive their recognition during a formal ceremony at State Farm Center on Sept. 20.

Much like the first two classes did.

But the third class of decorated former Illini athletes and coaches won't get a summer Friday night in downtown Chicago to celebrate during a black-tie event at the Field Museum.

When Illinois announced its latest class of 16 inductees on Wednesday, officials also announced it would not include a 2019 Hall of Fame Gala in Chicago.

Instead, Illinois plans to, starting in 2021, hold the aforementioned Gala in Chicago every five years.

"We had two really good events in Chicago," Illinois athletics spokesman Kent Brown said. "The big challenge moving forward was to keep that a top-level event in Chicago.

"It came down to that it was pretty evident of what we would need to do to keep it at the level that was needed to have that event on an annual basis. We'll have a big event in Champaign, and we can do some things maybe a little bit more special here to carry over some of the things that worked so well in Chicago."

Big-time broadcasters Mike Tirico of NBC Sports (2017) and Rece Davis of ESPN (2018) served as emcees during the first two Gala events in Chicago, where nearly all of the Hall of Fame inductees were recognized prior to their actual induction in the Hall of Fame that transpired later that fall during Hall of Fame Weekend in Champaign.

This will mark the first year, too, that the Hall of Fame ceremony at State Farm Center will fall on a Friday. The first two took place on Saturday afternoons at State Farm Center since Illinois hosted a Friday night football game each of the last two seasons during Hall of Fame wekeend. The Illini host Nebraska on Sept. 21 in their Big Ten opener where the inductees will be recognized during the game.

Four football players headline the class, with J.C. Caroline, Bobby Mitchell, Simeon Rice and David Williams representing the sport, while Don Freeman, Eddie Johnson and Deon Thomas are inductees from men's basketball.

Ashley Berggren (women's basketball), Lindsey Nimmo Bristow (women's tennis), Amer Delic (men's tennis), Joseph Giallombardo (men's gymnastics), Jenna Hall (softball), Joe Hunsaker (men's swimming and diving), Bob Norman (wrestling), Angela Bizzarri Pflugrath (women's track and field, women's cross-country) and Gary Wieneke (men's track and field coach, cross-country coach) make up the rest of the class.

The 2019 class is the smallest in the three years the Hall of Fame has existed after Illinois inducted 28 individuals into the first class in 2017 and 21 into the second class in 2018.

"We've never gone in with a specific number that we're going to hit," Brown said. "It's a loose, moving number. We have a goal in mind of where we want to be, but there's not any solid rule. We go into the selection process with an idea of what we want in a certain kind of range."

Quite the Hall

A look at the 16 individuals who will be part of the third Illinois athletics Hall of Fame class, which will be honored during a formal ceremony at State Farm Center on Sept. 20:

NAME, SPORT YEARS

Ashley Berggren, Women's basketball 1995-98

COMMENT: Now living in London, the 1997 Big Ten Player of the Year finished her Illini career as the all-time leading scorer with 2,089 points, which is now second in program history.

Lindsey Nimmo Bristow, women's tennis 1991-93

COMMENT: Now living in Naperville, Bristow was first Illini women's tennis player to ever earn All-American honors in 1993 and finished with 103-33 career record.

J.C. Caroline, football 1953-54

COMMENT: Caroline, who died in 2017 at the age of 84, rushed for 1,256 yards in 1953, finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting that year and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1980.

Amer Delic, men's tennis 2001-03

COMMENT: The only Illini to win an NCAA title in men's singles so far, Delic posted a 36-5 singles record in 2003 while also helping Illinois win the team NCAA title. Resides in Austin, Texas.

Don Freeman, men's basketball 1964-66

COMMENT: Left Illinois as the program's all-time leading scorer with 1,449 points — now 16th — and earned All-American honors in 1966. Now resides in Omaha, Neb.

Joseph Giallombardo, men's gymnastics 1938-40

COMMENT: Won seven NCAA individual titles and helped Illinois win two NCAA team titles, the U.S. Gymnastics Hall of Famer died in 2011 at the age of 94.

Jenna Hall, softball 2003-06

COMMENT: Now an assistant softball coach at Ohio State, Hall hit 33 career home runs — then a program record, now fifth all-time — and was a First-Team All-American in 2006.

Joe Hunsaker, men's swimming & diving 1957-59

COMMENT: A national champion in the 200-yard individual medley at Illinois in 1958, Hunsaker, who died in 2012 at the age of 74, was an industry leader in the creation of international-class swimming pools.

Eddie Johnson, men's basketball 1978-81

COMMENT: A First-Team All-Big Ten honoree in 1981, Johnson scored 1,692 points with the Illini (eighth all-time) and spent 17 productive seasons in the NBA. Currently lives in Paradise Valley, Ariz.

Bobby Mitchell, football, men's track and field 1955-58

COMMENT: An All-Big Ten football player in 1955 and 1957, he also won Big Ten titles in the 100-yard dash and 220-yard dash in 1958 before playing 11 seasons in the NFL. Resides in Washington, D.C.

Bob Norman, wrestling 1957-58

COMMENT: He went undefeated in two seasons with the Illini, winning national titles in the heavyweight division both seasons. He currently lives in Delavan, Wis.

Angela Bizzarri Pflugrath, track and field 2006-10

COMMENT: A nine-time All-American, she won a national outdoor title in the 5,000-meter run in 2009, a national title in cross-country in 2009 and a national indoor title in the 3,000-meter run in 2010. Currently lives in Vallejo, Calif.

Simeon Rice, football 1992-95

COMMENT: Now living in Phoenix, Rice compiled a Big-Ten record 44 1 / 2 sacks before becoming the third overall pick in the 1996 NFL draft. Played 12 seasons in the NFL with 122 career sacks.

Deon Thomas, men's basketball 1991-94

COMMENT: Still the program's all-time leading scorer (2,129 points) 25 years after establishing the mark. Played professionally overseas for 14 years and now lives in Naperville.

Gary Wieneke, track and field, cross-country 1967-2003

COMMENT: Led his Illini teams to 13 Big Ten titles and won three Big Ten Coach of the Year honors during four-plus decades of coaching at Illinois. Currently lives in Champaign.

David Williams, football 1983-85

COMMENT: A 2005 College Football Hall of Fame inductee, the receiver still holds Illini career records for receiving yards (3,392), receptions (262) and receiving touchdowns (24). Currently lives in Los Angeles.

Sports Editor

Matt Daniels is sports editor at The News-Gazette. His email is mdaniels@news-gazette.com.