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Herron: DeGraw named new JJC cross country coach

Joliet Junior College's new head coach in men's and women's cross country Jeff DeGraw poses with a former athlete of his while coaching at Lewis University, Sarah (Ellif) Earl, during the state finals at Peoria's Detweiller Park.
Joliet Junior College's new head coach in men's and women's cross country Jeff DeGraw poses with a former athlete of his while coaching at Lewis University, Sarah (Ellif) Earl, during the state finals at Peoria's Detweiller Park.

LOCKPORT – I’ll never forget the day I met Jeff DeGraw. I knew he was a former college coach who ran a sports memorabilia shop on Barney Drive named Matt’s Sports Cards, named after his son, Matt, and he owned that from 2002 to 2013. DeGraw also hosts a radio show on WJOL 1340 named, “Will County Sports,” which began in 2012.

During our first conversation about his coaching history he told me that an early coaching stop was at the Navajo Community College, now renamed Dine’ College, which is located in Tsaile, Arizona. I had actually seen the school during my visit to the beautiful Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

As a student of those who first occupied the U.S., I always was fascinated by the Navajo, or the Dine’ – the “People” – as they want to be referred. So, we definitely hit it off right away, and that’s why I’m so thrilled that my coaching buddy and a five-year freelancer at The Herald-News has returned to his greatest joy in life, being a college coach at a quality school, after becoming the new head cross country coach for the men’s and women’s teams at Joliet Junior College.

“I’m beyond excited about this opportunity to coach the men’s and women’s cross country teams at Joliet Junior College,” DeGraw said. “I’m very comfortable being at JJC after watching my son play baseball for two years and also getting to know everybody on the athletic staff, and now my son is the JJC pitching coach. This is a great opportunity.

“I first retired as a collegiate coach in 2002 and took off 17 years from that, but I’ve been involved in sports since then by coaching, owning the sports card shop, working for The Herald-News and having my radio show. I think that this all promotes local sports, especially high school sports, which is so important to me since they all deserve recognition.”

When you consider DeGraw’s diverse résumé, it’s definitely been a long and winding road. He was raised in Dover, Ohio, by his father and mother, Ed and Nancy. Ed was a sportswriter and journalist for 52 years in northeastern Ohio, and Nancy was a housewife.

After being a high school athlete at Dover, Ohio, he went to Mount Union College in nearby Alliance. After getting a bachelor’s degree in education, he took a job at Kenton High School and was a cross country and track and field coach and taught middle school.

After college, became the head cross country coach and assistant track coach at NCAA Division III Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln from 1980 to 1983. After being at Navajo from 1983 to 1986, he went to Division III Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, from 1986 to 1989 and coached boys and girls cross country and track and field.

His first local job was as Lewis University’s head coach in men’s and women’s cross country and track and field from 1989 to 2002. He had numerous national champions and All-Americans, with five different cross country teams finishing in the top four at nationals. DeGraw met his future wife, Mary, who has worked at Lewis since 1990, and they got married in 1991, and their son, Matt, was born in 1994.

“I’ve learned about the ‘modern’ athlete and how things change over time,” DeGraw said. “The Will County area is such a hotbed for distance runners, we’ve always been good in those sports. I want to make JJC a destination for anyone who wants to run beyond high school, and every athlete should have the opportunity if that’s what they want. We have two great programs at Lewis and St. Francis, and I want to make JJC the third great program.”

“For every athlete, if they want to participate in college, there’s a place for them, and that’s what JJC is all about for our area in any sport. I want to make sure that we are high on the list of distance runners and want to be successful. I’m not coaching just to have a team, but I don’t think that anybody coaches just to coach. Your coaching and the success imitates life. If you work hard at a sport and succeed, that’s the same as how your life is going to be.”