Men's Soccer Alumnus Surprised and Honored at Judson University Hall of Fame Ceremony
(Elgin, IL – February 10, 2012) It was an evening full of gratitude and excitement when Rob Eastland and four other athletic alumni of Judson University returned to their alma mater to be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame on Friday, January 27. The Hall of Fame ceremony honored alumni from the 1970s, 1990s, and 2000s eras. Other inductees honored were Gary Shelley (1970-74; men’s basketball), Nancy Binger (1993-97; women’s basketball/athletic administration); Janee Kazda (volleyball; 1997-2001), and Shawna Sipes (women’s basketball; 1998-2002).
Fellow teammate and friend Josh Guge introduced Eastland at the Hall of Fame ceremony, remarking on his talent and skill, but also noting Eastland's distinct ability to lead his team by example.
Eastland came from Portchester Fareham, England to play on the men's soccer team for Judson from 1997-2001. Ten years later, he still holds the all-time record for assists in the program with 81 assists. He also set a single-season record with 33 assists in 1999 when he was only a junior. Eastland ranks sixth in Judson's All-Time Top Ten for points with 173 career points, and he ranks seventh in Judson's Single Season Top Ten for assists with 21 assists in the 2000 season. During his time in the program, Eastland was part of an NCCAA National Championship as well as Judson's first ever CCAC Championship in 2000. Eastland was named CCAC Player of the Year in 2000.
"Rob is empowering," said Guge. "He instills belief in people - that's why he's been a successful coach for hundreds of kids in the past 14 years."
Guge's words highlighted what was perhaps Eastland's greater joy that evening. Thirty-two surprise guests showed up to honor the inductee, including all of the players, parents and board members from the Johnsburg White Lightning Soccer Club that he coaches. Eastland, a resident of McHenry, Ill. was named Northwest Herald Boys Soccer Coach in 2010.
"I thought this evening would be about celebrating with my wife and brother-in-law, but somehow I now have four tables of people to celebrate with!" Eastland exclaimed as he stepped up to the podium to say a few words of gratitude. "It's not often that an entire group of teenagers give up their Friday night to hear ex-athletes reminisce about the good old days, but I'm so glad they came."
To add the surprise and excitement, Eastland's mother, Elizabeth Eastland, was also present to see her son inducted into the Hall of Fame. The Jansens, a family from the Johnsburg White Lightning Soccer Club, arranged for Mrs. Eastland to fly from England to see her son receive his award. As an international student at Judson, the chance for his mother to see him in action, or be present when he received an award was a rare blessing.
"It’s a special evening because my mom is here," he said, smiling to her from the podium. "I didn't get to share all of my good moments and games with my family. I could try and explain it over the phone later, but it was just not the same."
Mrs. Eastland surprised Rob a couple of days prior to the ceremony by walking into one of his training sessions with his daughter in her arms.
“His Mum mentioned that she really concentrated on not crying so that Rob wouldn't begin crying in front of his players. He was thrilled that his Mum was present to celebrate with him,” says Amy Nikolai, one of the members from the Johnsburg White Lightning Soccer Club that helped Mrs. Eastland make travel arrangements.
“Rob isn't one that has ever wanted to recognized for his accomplishments. He thought he would slip in and slip out [of the Hall of Fame event] without anyone but a few folks knowing,” says Nikolai. “His soccer family thought otherwise.”
Eastland, like many Englishmen, had played soccer his whole life. In his youth he had been exposed to some of the greatest teams and players in the sport, but when the doors closed on his chances to go professional, Eastland chose to pursue opportunities to play in the United States. He had a choice between five different universities in locations across the country including Florida, California, New York, and Pennsylvania, but he chose Crystal Lake, Ill. thinking that it would be a beautiful, scenic place.
"But I get off my plane at O'Hare, drive Route 90 and arrive in Elgin, of all places. It was not what I had imagined," says Eastland, but he soon became acquainted with the small riverside campus of Judson University, and it did become a home for him as he earned his education and played the sport he loved.
In reflecting on his time at Judson, Eastland acknowledged Coach Steve Burke, who was recently awarded the National Intercollegiate Soccer Officials Association (NISOA) Coaching Award through the NCCAA, for helping him to learn the language of being a Judson soccer player.
"It only took one practice on the field for me to realize that I spoke another language than my Judson teammates. Coach Burke took me aside very quickly and suggested that if I wanted to succeed at the school, I needed to change that language. As with so many things he did, that moment taught me that this experience was about so much more than the game of soccer," said Eastland.
"What I found at Judson was more than an education and more than soccer accolades. I discovered foundations for life, and now I can pass these on to my soccer kids."
Eastland also took time to acknowledge the influential role that Guge had on him. Eastland told the audience that his proudest Judson moment was not as a player for the team, but rather as a returning graduate. Seeing Guge advance from a junior varsity player to the varsity team captain was a treasured experience.
"I saw this guy grow, and take the team further in a year than I had taken them in four. Josh doesn't realize that I've been using him as an example in coaching my soccer kids for the last 14 years."
With a sweeping gesture toward Guge, who stood behind him, and Coach Burke at a table in front of him, Eastland explained that the Hall of Fame gathering was not about the sports accolades, but about what their time at Judson had instilled in them.
"What I found at Judson was more than an education and more than soccer accolades. I discovered foundations for life, and now I can pass these on to my soccer kids," he said. "It's about the moments you remember and talk about 10 years later. It's about when you sweat with someone, when you bleed with someone, when you play with someone, when you bond with someone. We will be telling these stories for the rest of our lives."
In closing, Eastland made an apology to his wife, Corrie, for the disappointment he had always carried in not having made it to a professional team.
"In our 12 years together, I've won accolades, but I never went pro like I always wanted to. I let other coaches and people in my life tell me that what I did wasn't enough, and so I thought nothing I did would ever be good enough to get over that loss. But tonight, for the first time, I feel good enough."