Sometimes change is painful… but the positive outcome will somehow win over the masses if one can persevere and weather the storm. If there is such a person that can wake a sleeping giant such as the Chicago State University Men’s and Women’s track and field program it is head coach Craig Collins.
Collins took over the reigns of a dismal program during the fall of 2011 amid tremendous skepticism from critics and friends. After all, it has been years since the Cougar track and field program produced a viable product. However, Collins is a veteran of reviving programs after working to build several dormant Chicago Public League High School programs into respectability. Coach Collins took a brief moment out of his very busy schedule to talk about his vision for the Cougar program.
Can you tell us how you got your start in athletics?
I am a Chicago Public School product. That in itself puts you in a perspective to find something to occupy your time. I started running track at age nine and I also played football at Julian High School [on the southside]. After high school, I went to college at Indiana University as a track walk-on. I was fortunate to later earn a partial scholarship which helped out a lot financially.
What was the first thing you did after college?
After graduating with a degree in English, I taught English for the first seven years of my career.
Where did you teach?
I taught at the Chicago Initiative (now CICS-Longwood) doing and then on to North Lawndale College Prep Charter.
What is this health initiative?
It was a program that allowed me to get out of the classroom and into the gym. It is here where I was able to really enhance young student-athletes.
Let’s be honest. CSU is a real tough sell due to an array of issues. What do you have in place to change the negative stigma of the university?
Well, we are slowly but surely moving in a positive direction. The academic standards are getting tougher for the students and especially for the student-athletes. I noticed that a lot of good CPS kids were being overlooked for a place to go to school. I wanted to reach out to them and make a change.
What is the major selling point?
Our university is in the city- it’s in Chicago, which is one of the best cities in the country. We have a nice and beautiful campus. I always thought it was a shame to see kids leave the city without hesitation. But there are others who opt out and have nowhere to go to school.
What are your short-term goals for the program?
I want to make CSU a viable program where kids can get a quality education and have a wonderful experience through track and field. I feel it would be a way for kids to acquire a life-long memory that they can pass along.
What are your long-term goals for the program?
I want to put in opportunities to sustain the short-term goals. I want kids to understand that it’s more than athletics. I will make sure my student-athletes get involved in the community and build their character. I feel this will pay off and the program will sell itself. The university and the athletic program will then become a viable option for kids to choose.