The Hillsdale College Athletic Hall of Fame honored its four newest members on Saturday night. Jeanie Adams, James Drawbridge ‘66, Thomas Kanka ‘84, and James McHugh ‘94 were all inducted into Hillsdale’s Hall of Fame at the 19th annual Hall of Fame Banquet. More than 200 people were in attendance at the Searle Center.
Each of the four inductees possess unique stories, and each left a lasting impact on Hillsdale athletics.
Unlike her three fellow inductees, Adams is not a former Charger athlete. From 1970 to 2014, Adams worked in Hillsdale’s athletic department, making her one of the longest-tenured employees in Hillsdale’s history. In her 44 years, Adams worked under five different athletic directors.
“She served as executive assistant to five athletic directors, which tells you who kept the athletic program moving during that time,” economics professor Gary Wolfram said during his introduction of Adams.
Adams never thought she’d become a member of Hillsdale’s Hall of Fame.
“I had the privilege of organizing this event for 16 years. I never dreamed I’d be a recipient,” she said. “I’m honored, I’m humbled, and I’m astounded. It’s just wonderful.”
Adams shared memories from throughout her time working at Hillsdale and looked back fondly at the relationships she made with coaches, administrators, and student athletes.
“There were very few times that I didn’t want to go to work,” Adams said. “I can truly say that I loved my job.”
Before Adams began working in the athletic department, Drawbridge founded Hillsdale’s varsity hockey club.
In 1963, Drawbridge put out posters around campus asking for students who might be interested in forming a hockey club with him. About 12 skaters came to that first meeting. In its early years, the team would skate on Baw Beese lake or the pond in the Arb.
The club was unfunded, but when the team did have any money they would go skate at the University of Michigan.
“Usually midnight or 1 o’clock was the only time we could get on the ice,” Drawbridge said. “We’d pile into three or four cars and drive up there and then skate.”
The club team played four games in its first season. In their final game, the Chargers traveled to Columbus, Ohio, to take on Ohio State’s JV hockey team. Hillsdale won 17 – 0.
A little later on, a hockey arena was built in Jackson, allowing the team to play and practice much closer to home.
“I think that really brought success to the program,” Drawbridge said.
Hillsdale took on Purdue University in Jackson in its final game of the 1968 – 69 season. It was standing room only.
“You couldn’t find a place even to walk,” Drawbridge said. “Here’s the little Hillsdale College playing Purdue University.”
The Chargers trailed 2 – 0 after the first period. They won 14 – 2.
“It was that team — that ‘68-‘69 team — our second place finish in the playoffs and the game against Purdue that proved to be the impetus for hockey becoming a varsity sport,” Drawbridge said.
Hillsdale’s student body prepared a proposal in the spring petitioning the board of trustees to make hockey a varsity sport. The board approved it.
“For the first time probably in the school’s history a sport was made because of student initiative,” Drawbridge said.
After graduating, Drawbridge coached the hockey team he created while serving as Hillsdale’s director of alumni relations and job placement. He left Hillsdale in 1974.
“What Hillsdale gave me in addition to coaching was a profession,” Drawbridge said. “Early on we didn’t have school funding, so a lot of times I was out talking to merchants trying to raise money. When the students made it a varsity sport, they also had an opening in the development office. So I wound up as a fundraiser and Hillsdale gave me my profession. For 40 years I was a fundraiser.”
Drawbridge expressed gratitude and disbelief when he learned of his induction.
“To say I’m honored and humbled by this tribute would be an understatement,” he said. “I was stunned. I just sat there, and I immediately thought of Lucy and Charlie Brown, and Charlie Brown thinking that Lucy was always going to leave the ball there. I would’ve pulled it out, so I was sure I was being punked.”
Kanka, an NAIA All-American defensive lineman with the Chargers in the early 1980s, was similarly humbled and astonished when he learned of his induction.
“I was speechless, which is not an easy feat to accomplish,” Kanka said. “As I look out at this incredible turnout of former teammates — high school and college — coaches, friends, and family, my hall of fame induction pales in comparison to their attendance here today. For you all to be here today, to take time out of your busy lives, makes this a day I will never, never forget.”
Kanka helped lead Hillsdale’s dominant defense in the early ‘80s and was an integral part of the Chargers’ undefeated regular season in 1982. But if it wasn’t for a short car ride with former Hillsdale athletic director Jack McAvoy before his freshman season, Kanka might never have played Charger football.
Kanka came to Hillsdale as a freshman out of shape and overconfident.
“I wasn’t ready physically or mentally to succeed at football or academics when I came to campus in the summer of 1980,” Kanka said.
After five straight days of dawn patrol — he and his teammates would wake up at 5 a.m. to run — Kanka had had enough.
“I was ready to quit,” Kanka said.
As Kanka made the trek across campus to Simpson Dormitory, worn out and ready to give up, McAvoy pulled up alongside Kanka and offered him a ride to Simpson.
“Cool, I don’t have to walk,” Kanka said.
Kanka got into the car and what McAvoy told Kanka has stuck with him for the past 37 years.
“You know that the decisions you make today will not only affect you for the rest of your life, but also your family,” McAvoy told him. “The coaches brought you here because they believed you could be a good college player. Stick around and prove they made the right decision.”
Kanka did just that.
“Those words changed my life,” Kanka said.
Since graduating, Kanka has founded Hillsdale’s Gridiron Club and has been heavily involved in fundraising.
The night’s final inductee, McHugh, is one of Hillsdale’s greatest track and field athletes.
McHugh won back-to-back NAIA championships in 1993 and 1994 in the high jump. His personal best — 7 feet, 1 inch — is a school record that has yet to be broken.
McHugh also tied for third at the NCAA D-II Track and Field Championships with a jump of 6 feet, 10 inches.
“The track team was really just a big family with brothers and sisters, and the coaches are your parents keeping you in line. We would travel together and spend close to 40 hours per week together,” McHugh said. “I’m just the guy that gets to get inducted into the hall of Fame for them. I just feel like I’m their representative.”
McHugh expressed gratitude to all his former coaches, including Bill Lundberg, whom he now considers a “dear friend and mentor.”
“Coach Lundberg is the one that got me here to Hillsdale. His infectious enthusiasm and charisma is what brought me here,” McHugh said. “His experiences and guidance allowed me to blossom into the athlete that I didn’t even think that I could be. I just wanted to jump 7 feet in the high jump someday. His ability to put together a dream team of coaches was just short of miraculous.”
McHugh was thankful not only for the impact Hillsdale had on his growth as an athlete but also as a person.
“Thank you to this college who helped a young man start to see what is most important in life, and thank you to each one of you here who in your own way have made sacrifices,” McHugh said.