Barry McNamara  |  Published April 08, 2019

A Leader in Illinois Athletics

Craig Anderson, head of Illinois high school sports, tells students that athletics teaches valuable life lessons.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College alumnus Craig Anderson ’91 believes that participation in athletics is not just about skill development, it’s about learning life lessons.

CRAIG ANDERSON: The relationships I formed at Monmouth ... CRAIG ANDERSON: “The relationships I formed at Monmouth I treasure. Those days, I will never give them away. They're unforgettable to me. I learned not just skill development, but life lessons.”That was the case with Anderson’s experience at Monmouth, and it’s also a storyline he sees play out every day in his role as executive director of the Illinois High School Association.

Anderson shared his Monmouth story on Monday with some of the College’s physical education and kinesiology classes, and he also reflected on the changing landscape of high school sports.

“I played for fantastic coaches at Monmouth,” said Anderson, who played football and basketball for the Fighting Scots after starring at nearby Cambridge High School.

On the gridiron, his coach was Kelly Kane, while his basketball coach was Terry Glasgow. Anderson required a pause for an emotional time out while recalling his playing days for the two Hall of Fame coaches.

“The relationships I formed at Monmouth I treasure,” he said. “Those days, I will never give them away. They’re unforgettable to me. I learned not just skill development, but life lessons.”

Personal references

Anderson still vividly recalls an encounter with Glasgow, waiting patiently while “TG” finished a phone conversation.

“You could tell he was giving a personal reference,” said Anderson. “When he got done, he said to me, ‘Don’t worry, someday I’ll lie to a future employer about you, too.’ He was joking, of course, but I remember resolving that day that I didn’t want him to have to lie about me. It made a significant impact on me.”

As it turned out, it was a connection that his other Fighting Scots head coach had that helped Anderson secure his first job after Monmouth. Kane was connected to an administrator at Morton High School, where Anderson was hired and spent the next 10 years as a teacher and coach.

Anderson advised the Monmouth students to have an initial career plan, but said sometimes life provides even bigger opportunities.

“I was a math teacher and a football coach and a basketball coach,” he said of his time at Morton. “I was coaching as many sports as I could. So I got to do that and achieve that – it was what I set out to do. But you never know – there may be something beyond that. There are untold opportunities out there.”

Creating a network

For Anderson, those opportunities began when he decided to transition to athletic administration. Although he lost day-to-day contact with the players on a roster, he took pride in having a larger impact and influence on the student-athletes at his next two high schools, Olympia and Washington.

Connections he made along the way with a pair of men who went on to work for the IHSA – Marty Hickman and Dave Gannaway – led to him going to work there and, in 2016, succeeding Hickman as executive director.

“I’m proud of the network I created,” Anderson told the class. “Never burn bridges – you don’t know who the next person who’s going to hire you is going to know in your path.”

Leading high school athletics

As IHSA executive director, Anderson has many responsibilities, running the spectrum from attending the state tournaments to answering questions from principals and athletic directors at the IHSA’s 817 member schools to making about 3,000 rulings annually on student-athlete eligibility.

In addition to helping create a strategic plan for the association, Anderson’s time is also devoted to newer issues, including the emerging activities of girls’ wrestling and e-sports, restructuring the state basketball tournament, and the creation of districts in football.

The football issue is an especially “hot topic,” he said, with a fairly even split in the membership. Districting would mean the state would assign each high school’s football schedule, matching schools with opponents in the same enrollment class. Conference alignment would no longer be significant, and travel for most schools would likely increase. As it currently stands, said Anderson, districting is a go for the 2021 season, although another vote before then could change scheduling back to the way it’s currently done.

But no matter what happens during the short term, Anderson’s big-picture goal remains to create and sustain the same type of experience for today’s student-athletes that he had during his playing days.

“Real success should be like myself – I never played in a state championship game, but I created a bond with coaches and teammates that lasts forever. That bond will connect today’s athletes for the rest of their lives,” he said. “It’s the relationships and the camaraderie that are precious.”

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