Last night at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland, the Mid-American Conference held their ESPYS Awards. Well, they weren't actually called the ESPYS, but you get the idea. With names like Ben Roethlisberger and Gary Pinkel in the room, it did feel like an event coming from the four-letter network.
The 2015 MAC Honors Dinner Ceremony highlighted achievements both on and off the field of student athletes, as well as the men's and women's programs in the conference. The event also featured the induction of five new members of the MAC Hall of Fame.
Former Miami Redhawk quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger was the "poster boy" for this year's class of inductees. After a warm round of applause brought him to the podium to speak after his induction, Ben got off the best line of the night, saying "That is the nicest welcome I've ever gotten here in Cleveland."
He wasn't lying either. He owns an 8-2 all-time record in Cleveland as the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also owns two very large Super Bowl rings which he was sporting last night, but this night wasn't about his NFL accomplishments. That induction will likely come after his professional career is over.
When Big Ben left Miami, he owned every passing record in the books. He threw for 10,829 yards and 84 touchdowns in only three seasons from 2001-03. His junior year was one for the ages, throwing for 4,486 yards and 37 touchdowns, leading Miami to 12-consecutive wins, including a MAC Championship and GMAC Bowl victory.
Roethlisberger was a three-time All-MAC selection, earning first-team honors in 2003 and second-team recognition twice. Of course he would forgo his final year of college eligibility to enter the 2004 NFL Draft. He was the 11th overall selection by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the highest draft pick in Miami program history.
Roethlisberger made a special point in his acceptance speech to thank his former coach Terry Hoeppner, who passed away way too soon with cancer in 2007.
Former Toledo Rockets head coach Gary Pinkel was also inducted into the Hall of Fame last night. Pinkel had plane troubles and he and his wife made it to the event midway into the ceremonies, right before he was due to be inducted.
Pinkel is still the all-time wins leader (73) at Toledo, and also holds the same distinction at his current employer...the Missouri Tigers of the Southeastern Conference. Pinkel led Toledo to a MAC Championship in 1995, as the Rockets went 11-0-1, won the Las Vegas Bowl and ended the season ranked No. 22 in the final coaches' poll. He was named MAC Coach of the Year in 1995 and 1997.
Pinkel was quick to thank his mentor, Don James, the former Kent State and Washington Huskies head coach. Pinkel played for James as a Golden Flash and had a very distinguished playing career before he got into coaching. Pinkel was a three-time letter winner as a tight end at Kent State from 1971-73. During his senior season, he earned All-MAC and honorable mention All-America honors.
Pinkel was teammates with current Alabama head coach Nick Saban and Jack Lambert while at Kent State, and also was the roommate of the former Steeler linebacker. That alone probably gives him enough stories to get him elected into the MAC Hall of Fame.
Also inducted as part of the 2015 class was wrestler Casey Cunningham from Central Michigan. Cunningham won the 1999 NCAA National Championship at 157 pounds and became Central Michigan's first Division I National Champion. He was a two-time All-American and a three-time MAC individual champion and was named MAC Wrestler of the Year in 1999.
Bob Parks was a collegiate runner at Eastern Michigan from 1951-55 and was the school's Head Men's Track and Field and Cross Country Coach for 34 years. Under his guidance, his Eagles teams won a total of 31 MAC titles and he was named MAC Coach of the Year 22 times. His teams won six NAIA and NCAA team titles, and he was named NCAA National Coach of the Year once and regional Coach of the Year nine times.
George Dales, Head Men's Track and Field and Cross Country Coach at Western Michigan, won back-to-back NCAA Cross Country Championships in 1964 and 1965, and accumulated 12 MAC titles in track & field and another eight in cross country. His cross country teams finished in the top 10 nationally on 13 occasions. He was the 1970 NCAA Track Coach of the Year.
Among the athletes he coached was Olympic Gold Medalist Ira Murchison, world record holder in the 100m and 1956 Olympic winner in the 4 x100 meter. Murchison also captured the NCAA 100 yard dash title in 1958, while John Bork, won the 880 meter NCAA title three years later.
Both Parks and the 92-year-old Dales both spoke passionately about having the MAC require that conference schools must field track and cross country teams. Title IX and budget concerns have caused some schools eliminate those sports in recent years.
Also at the ceremonies, the winners of the Reese Trophy and Jacoby Award were announced. Eastern Michigan won the Jacoby Award as the top women's program in the MAC. While Central Michigan won the Reese Trophy as the top men's athletic program in the MAC. The Chippewas also won the 2015 Institutional Sportsmanship Award.
In addition, 23 student-athletes were presented the Medal of Excellence Award, which is presented annually to one male and one female student-athlete from the graduating class of each of the 12 Conference member institutions.
2015 MAC Medal of Excellence Award Winners
Akron: Kyle Cochrun (CC/track & field); Kelsey Ferrante (swimming & diving)
Ball State: Jacob Richard (football); Jenna Hague (golf)
Bowling Green: Christian Piazza (football); Deborah Hoekstra (basketball)
Buffalo: Waleed Cassis (soccer); Courtney Mann (soccer)
Central Michigan: Ethan Lievense (CC/track & field); Abbey Kelto (CC/track & field)
Eastern Michigan: John Rubino (baseball); Victoria Voronko (CC/track & field)
Kent State: Miles Dunlap (track & field); Stephanie Haugh (soccer)
Miami: Jessica Hoover (CC/track & field)
Northern Illinois: Robert Sterling (football); Makenzie Roddy (volleyball)
Ohio: Andrew Mlynarski (golf); Julie Lechner (golf)
Toledo: Greg Mancz (football); Mackenzie Chojnacky (CC/track & field)
Western Michigan: Austin Richie (basketball); Rachel Chaney (soccer)