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Division II success stories highlight Convention general session

Jim Crane, Brian Kilmeade, Violet Palmer to serve as Division II keynotes at 2014 NCAA Convention

As Division II concludes its year-long 40th Anniversary celebration during the 2014 NCAA Convention, three prominent former student-athletes are set to address Division II delegates as keynote speakers in San Diego.

Jim Crane

Houston Astros chairman and principal owner Jim Crane, FOX & Friends host Brian Kilmeade and gender-barrier breaking NBA official Violet Palmer will discuss the impact of their student-athlete experience during the Division II General Session on Friday morning, Jan. 17, at the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina.

Crane, a former baseball student-athlete at the University of Central Missouri, helped lead the Mules to the 1974 Division II baseball tournament as the standout pitcher struck out a tournament single-game record 18 batters.

After graduating from UCM, Crane started a multi-billion dollar freight company from the ground up with a loan from his sister. He founded Eagle/USA Airfreight in March 1984 and served as its CEO through August 2007. The company grew exponentially and went public in 1995, trading on the NASDAQ. By 2000, Crane’s company was renamed Eagle Global Logistics to reflect its operations in more than 100 countries. It was bought by Apollo Management in 2007 and left the NASDAQ, eventually becoming part of CEVA Logistics. Crane used the success he experienced as a business entrepreneur to purchase the Astros in 2011.

“The biggest thing I learned (from Division II baseball) is if you just work a little harder and focus more, you are going to beat most to the punch,” Crane said. “College athletics is a good base for any student-athlete. I can’t tell you one guy on that team who hasn’t been successful afterward. Playing baseball gave them a positive way to move forward in various ways.”

Brian Kilmeade

Kilmeade was a member of the Long Island University/LIU Post men’s soccer program from 1982-86 and knew exactly where he wanted to go. In the Pioneers’ 1982 men’s soccer media guide, Kilmeade noted his desire to work in television and entertain people. A self-admittedly average soccer player, Kilmeade always knew he’d have to rely on more than his athletic ability after graduating from Post.

Now a New York Times best-selling author and co-host of top-rated morning television program FOX & Friends, Kilmeade credits skills he learned as a Division II student-athlete in achieving his post-graduation goals.

“Most of us who play in college know we have to do something else afterward,” Kilmeade said. “You could be the best, but very rarely do you have a pro career.

“I learned goals early, such as, ‘If you don’t do two miles in 12 minutes, you can’t play.’ But I find that if you have that structure early, and if you are self-motivated, then those are the types of people who get hired in the work force.”

Violet Palmer

Palmer won two Division II women’s basketball titles at Cal Poly Pomona in the 1980s and broke the gender barrier of major sports officiating in 1997 when she became the first female to officiate a regular season NBA game. The historic night in Palmer’s groundbreaking professional career also represented the first time a female refereed a major American professional sporting event.

Prior to joining the NBA, Palmer quickly climbed the officiating ladder in the collegiate ranks and was part of five NCAA Women’s Final Four officiating crews. Her career in officiating was jumpstarted by legendary Cal Poly Pomona women’s basketball coach Darlene May, who was the first female to officiate a men’s Olympic basketball contest during the 1984 Olympic games.

“Those thoughts as I first walked out onto the floor as an NBA referee, I can definitely tie back to when I first made the decision to play basketball at Cal Poly Pomona,” Palmer said. “My Division II experience taught me those essential things in life, not only as a basketball player but as a human being. It was dedication. It was hard work. It was the work ethic every single day.”

As part of its 40th Anniversary celebration, Division II will honor 50 former student-athletes during the 2014 Convention by holding a 40th Anniversary reception Thursday evening, January 16, open to all Division II convention attendees.

Crane, Kilmeade and Palmer are among 49 former Division II student-athletes that were honored in 2013 as part of a tribute team celebrating the 40th anniversary of Division II. The tribute team highlighted one male and one female student-athlete from each Division II conference and included two at-large nominees. A pair of identical twins pushed the total to 49 honorees with former Division II Vice President Mike Racy rounding out the slate of 50 as an honorary addition to the team.