The Kankakee High School Sports Hall of Fame inducted a class of five Thursday night at a party held in the school cafeteria, but the group was led by two standouts: One who might be characterized as a workhorse; and the other a thoroughbred.
Former athletic director and head football coach J.R. Black earned his reputation as the man who rallied parents and the community at large when what was then referred to as Westview High School opened without athletic facilities in 1966.
"With the help of some really wonderful volunteers, we turned a swamp into a football field and a track. We even built dugouts and bleachers," he said before the banquet. "Heck, I even learned to drive a bulldozer. I don't think it could be done today, but with those parents, we did it."
The racehorse designation belongs to former track and football star Jimmy Smith, who traveled from his home in Minneapolis to be part of the event. His introduction included an array of accolades, from winning back-to-back state track and field titles in the 220 yard dash, to playing college football at Purdue and Elon University, and in the NFL with the Washington Redskins.
"Coming back here and looking at some films of the things I did then ... I can't believe it was me," he said. "I look at that and I know that my talent came from God. And now I give back to God. I am an ordained minister and I run a car detailing business. I have a great wife. Life is good for me."
Also inducted were football and track standout Hollist Brown-Daniels, basketball and football headline-maker Corey Griffin, and baseball and basketball record-breaker Preston Williams Jr.
Brown-Daniels might be best remembered for going on to Olivet Nazarene University, where he helped the Tigers to a second-place finish in the NAIA playoffs in 1998. After years in the criminal justice field, he has returned to his alma mater where he serves as a mentor and hall monitor.
Griffin went on to Kankakee Community College, where he earned team MVP honors and all-conference first team status. He went on to the University of Nebraska at Omaha, where he was again an MVP. He came back to Kankakee and is now employed at Kraft foods.
Williams continued his career at Indiana State University, where he starred on the team that won the Missouri Valley Conference title. He went on to a teaching career and wound up retiring last year as a district superintendent. The Urbana School District has even named a grade school in his honor.
Brown-Daniels, Griffin and Williams followed the normal time frame for entrance to the hall, but Smith and Black waited a little longer.
"I can't really say too much about the delay," Smith said. "I had my problems for awhile, but I never pushed for this. I just credit my friends for working on this for me."
Black noted that he was often told, "We thought you were already in there,"
"You have to remember, I left here way back in 1977," he said, adding that he worked two other jobs before retiring to his follow his passion for fishing and preserving the outdoors.
"But this is great, coming back for this," Black said. "But it was never about me. I had some great players, I had two high school All-Americans in Greg Wilson and Joe Rockett. And I had a great groups of parents, staff and community people to help me.
"As I look back, yeah, maybe that was the time of my life."