Fisher Hall of Fame: New inductees ready for their closeup

Some are farmers.

Some are teachers.

One’s a lawyer.

Another is an exercise therapist who helps train professional athletes.

One even has his name roll through the credits on FOX’s music competition show “The X Factor.”

On Saturday night, 12 graduates of Fisher High School will come together and have the chance to receive an honor that wasn’t possible when they were in high school.

They’ll add their name to the Fisher Athletic Hall of Fame.

This year’s class — Trina May Burk, Scott May, Christie McCleary Delaney, Tricia Cook Schwing, Scott DeGraff, Michael Hofferth, Carol Hahnstadt Gamboa, Lindsay Wilson Gowin, Jon Kelly, Justin May, Chris Murray and Valerie Hieser Rogers — all competed at Fisher in the 1990s.

“This year is extra exciting for me because I was a child of the ‘90s,” said Ben Derges, Fisher’s athletic director who graduated from the school in 1996. “It’ll be good to see some of my friends that will be back here, so this year is more near and dear to my heart.”

Since it’s composed of athletes from the 1990s, why isn’t Derges among those getting inducted?

“Any athletic hall of fame that includes me immediately loses any credibility whatsoever,” Derges said with a laugh. “It would have been an insult to everyone else who’s been inducted to have me be going in this year.”

Schedule of events
All joking aside, this year’s Hall of Fame night at Fisher will start at 3 p.m. with a meet and greet, followed by the ceremony slated to start at 4 p.m.

Jim Sheppard, the former Illinois men’s basketball public address announcer and 1966 Fisher graduate, will emcee the ceremony.

“I thoroughly enjoy it,” Sheppard said, “and it’s always good to go back to your alma mater.”

A dinner provided by the Fisher Booster Club will take place at 4:30 p.m. before the Fisher junior varsity boys basketball team will tip off against Flanagan-Cornell at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity game at 6:30 p.m.

Sheppard will work the microphone during the basketball games, too.

“He’s been quite an asset to us,” said Bub Bayler, Fisher’s Hall of Fame committee chairman. “He does a lot better job than most of us would.”

Bayler and Derges said after this year’s ceremony there will be a one-year hiatus on inductees. Derges said one of the bylaws regarding induction into the Athletic Hall of Fame is inductees must be at least five years removed from their high school graduation.

The plan is to honor coaches and teams at a ceremony next basketball season, but not induct them into the Hall of Fame, and then pick back up during the 2014-15 basketball season with another ceremony to honor inductees from the 2000s.

Strong female contingent
Five females — Delaney, Schwing, Gamboa, Gowin and Rogers — are a part of this year’s class, which comes after last year’s class that spotlighted athletes from the 1980s, had the first three female inductees.

“I feel very privileged to be with the women who have gone in before me,” said Delaney, who graduated in 1992 and excelled in volleyball, basketball and softball. “It was a lot of fun to go back through my scrapbook. My dad and my grandparents were very good about keeping all my articles. When I went back through my scrapbook, looking at that makes me smile. My kids were like, ‘Really? You did that well?’”

Gowin, a 1997 graduate, is pleased to see more women recognized with this year’s class.

“I think that Fisher did not, for a long time, devote many resources to athletics for girls, and that’s been somewhat corrected, but that was still the case when I was there,” Gowin said. “I was glad to see that the women who were inducted before me had fewer resources than the men and still managed to achieve great things.”

Delaney, along with Schwing, were part of Fisher’s first softball team that started playing in 1992. Delaney played shortstop, and Schwing played second base.

“Not only were we part of the first softball team,” Schwing said, “but we were also playing fast-pitch, so it’s pretty incredible to be part of history.”

Schwing graduated in 1992 and helped Delaney on the volleyball court by leading the Bunnies to their first-ever sectional championship in the sport in 1991.

Schwing later coached at her alma mater, leading Fisher to 26 wins in 2003, which is still the school record.

Keeping it close-knit
Three family members are also part of this class. Burk (1990 graduate), Scott May (1991 graduate) and Justin May (1999 graduate) are all cousins.

They become the fifth Mays to receive this honor after Darrell May (1971 graduate) and Duane May (1976 graduate) were inducted two years ago.

“It’s really a cool thing,” Justin May said. “I started out when I was small seeing my dad and uncle compete and play in sports, and then all my cousins. Finally getting able to do that was cool.”

Burk concurred.

“It’s wonderful to see in the past,” Burk said, “and to continue seeing it means a lot for the family.”

Justin May is one of four inductees from the Class of 1999. Kelly, Murray and Rogers were also part of that class.

“Our class wasn’t really big, but we had quite a few people that really worked together and had a common goal of trying to get better,” Murray said. “We were just a pretty athletic class. All the kids went out there and tried to do their best.”

Kelly agreed.

“That’s pretty impressive considering our class only had 25 that graduated,” he said. “I think we’re all deserving for sure. Val Hieser was outstanding  in basketball and track. Justin May, in my opinion, is one of the best all-time athletes we’ve ever had here as far as all-around, and Chris was outstanding in wrestling and baseball. It was a good group of kids that worked hard.”

Dealing with small squads
The 1990s had some lean years for Fisher athletics in the postseason besides the success of the volleyball squads in the early part of the decade.

Scott May’s senior season of football — 1990 — didn’t transpire because the school didn’t have a varsity team.

“The 3-point line actually came out my freshman year, so I looked at it as an opportunity for the little guys,” Scott May said. “That’s what I concentrated on, and I spent the whole offseason (in 1990) shooting threes and running in the gym.”

The boys basketball program did not win a regional championship, and the girls basketball team won only one in 1990 under the old two-class system, with baseball and softball teams just starting out. Both programs are still in search of their first regional championship.

“We didn’t have enough people to fill the team a lot of the time,” said Gowin, a 1997 graduate who excelled in the pitcher’s circle for the Bunnies. “Once I became the starting pitcher a couple games into my freshman season, I threw every pitch after that.”

Gowin said it wasn’t unusual in the spring to see Gamboa — another 1997 graduate — compete in both track and softball during the same afternoon.

“Carol would go run the 400 meters for the track team and come over to play outfield for us in between races,” Gowin said. “She would literally hop over the fence to play outfield for us.”

Gamboa also excelled in volleyball and basketball. She wound up walking on to the volleyball team at Taylor University in Upland, Ind., before she earned a scholarship.

“I felt that since I went to a small school in Fisher, I had the opportunity to do everything,” Gamboa said. “It prepared me for college more so than if I hadn’t done everything. I was able to juggle everything better.”

Track success, too
Scott May, DeGraff (1995 graduate) and Rogers helped the track and field programs have a few bright spots.

All three qualified for the Class A state track meet, with Scott May placing sixth in the 200-meter dash his senior year while Rogers was third in state in the high jump as a sophomore.

“To compete against yourself and better yourself like that, that was what I would call very beneficial in life to have that experience,” said Rogers, who also played volleyball and basketball. “From when I was little on, I just loved to jump. I would run through the house and jump up at every doorway to see if I could touch the top.”

DeGraff credits former Fisher coach Wayne Bekaris for his success in track and field.

“I was blessed with natural jumping ability, but it was all the technique that Coach Bekaris instilled,” DeGraff said. “He was the reason I was able to jump as high as I could because he’d come in early and open the gym at 6:30 in the morning.”

Catching up with
All 12 inductees are working these days, with most of them having families or expecting to start families.

Most are still in the area, with Burk, Scott May, Delaney, Schwing, Kelly, Justin May, Murray and Rogers all living in Champaign County.

Gowin is the lawyer of the group, defending civil rights litigation against the Chicago Police Department.

Gamboa is the exercise therapist in Chicago who counts multiple Chicago Bears players among her clients.

DeGraff — who also played football for the Bunnies as a running back and linebacker and had a critical role in Fisher’s 1994 win against rival Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, which was the program’s last victory against the Falcons until the 2011 season — is the head athletic trainer and assistant athletic director at Lake Forest Academy in the Chicago suburbs.

And the one who will bring Hollywood credibility with him to Saturday’s ceremony?

Fisher fans might remember Hofferth, a 1996 graduate, for his scoring ability during his boys basketball career. He produced a 43-point game his senior season, and went past 1,000 career points during his junior season.

“Basketball was basically my life, especially at the time,” the former Bunnies guard said. “We were never that great, but the thing I took away from it the most was leadership and being able to stay positive in situations that weren’t always enjoyable.”

Now, he’s living in Agoura Hills, Calif., and working in television. Aside from working as the supervising producer on “The X Factor,” Hofferth owns his own multimedia company and worked as a production manager for three seasons of “American Idol.”

“The easiest way to explain it is, is I help build TV shows,” Hofferth said. “I’m responsible for the budget, hiring and building all the bodies around actually making the TV show. I maintain the budget and make sure we’re not going over. I answer a lot of questions that come out to me saying a lot of yes and no.”

If you would have asked Bayler four years ago what the response to starting the Fisher Athletic Hall of Fame would be like, he wouldn’t have had a decisive answer.

Now, it’s pretty clear.

Keeping in line with past ceremonies that had nearly everyone inducted present, all 12 inductees this year plan to be in attendance on Saturday.

“We’ve been real fortunate up to now,” Bayler said. “The older you get, the more you appreciate things like this. It’s worked far better than I ever expected.”
mdaniels@rantoulpress.com

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