By FRED KRONER
Some people find ways to turn a hobby into a money-making venture.
Jim Risley found a way to turn his passion into a memory-making experience.
Thirty-nine years ago, Risley arrived on the faculty at Mahomet-Seymour Junior High School.
Besides teaching sixth-grade history, Risley had an interest in weightlifting and weight training.
The facilities at M-S were far from state of the art.
“There were no free weights to be found,” Risley said. “Only an old Universal Gym machine.”
He wasn’t discouraged, but viewed the lack of equipment as an opportunity.
He borrowed nearly $600 from his parents and purchased some free weights and dumbbells.
Thirty-nine years later — that’s 39 all-volunteer years later — Risley still devotes time to supervising and monitoring lifters at M-S.
The retired school teacher may receive a tribute more long-lasting than a paycheck next month.
On Nov. 19, the M-S Board of Education will vote on a proposal to name the high school weight room, located in the field house, after Risley.
“It’s completely stunning,” said Risley, who learned last week about the possibility. “It’s hard to believe this is happening.”
A former student — who is also a former teaching colleague — is behind the push. Derek Halfar is a 2001 M-S graduate.
He returned to the school district after college and taught eighth-grade history across the hall from Risley for a decade.
“He pours his heart and soul into everything school-related,” Halfar said.
Halfar created an online petition to get the required signatures (minimum of 750) needed for consideration to be given to naming a room or building or facility after someone.
“There was an unbelievable response,” Halfar said. “Within 24 hours, there were 500 signatures.
“Within five to six days, 750 people had signed it.”
More impressive was the age range of those who showed their support.
“From when Riz started (in the district) in 1980 through 2018, at least one person from each year signed it,” Halfar said.
One person who is not surprised is M-S superintendent Lindsey Hall.
He sets an example of true volunteerism,” Hall said. “It has been a true labor of love.
“The giving of his time and expertise are the reasons behind naming the facility for him. It is so well-deserved.”
Risley never put restrictions on who could lift.
“It was a great venue to help kids fulfill their dreams,” Risley said. “We had cheerleaders, kids not in athletics.
“There were so many kids involved in the weight room and the development of it. It means everything to me to help the community of Mahomet that I love.”
He may not have received monetary compensation for his decades of dedication, but Risley said he derived plenty of benefits.
“It was a wonderful time in my life,” Risley said. “I’d talk to the kids, listen to their dreams and sometimes be a mentor.
“As a volunteer, you’re doing it because you care about them, not because you’re paid some money. It gave me relevance. It gave me a purpose.”
Risley was a willing volunteer.
“If I was paid, it wouldn’t have been as much fun,” he said. “There’s a seriousness that comes with a paycheck.
“It’s not a labor of love, but an environment of love.”
The early years were challenging.
Until the fieldhouse opened in 1997, the weight room didn’t have a permanent home.
“They floated around the district at five different places,” Risley said, “at the shop room at the (current) junior high, the cafeteria at the high school, the locker room at the junior high, the wrestling room at the high school and then we were allowed to go into the (now-defunct) Middletown School stage area for four or five years.
“Every summer, we would take them out of storage and load them up,” Risley added, “and we’d be there until school started and they kicked us out.”
Halfar was one of the participants.
“He’d run a camp from May until November (total six-month cost, $35) and he’d help anybody,” said Halfar, who is now in his 13th year as a middle school instructor. “He’d show the proper technique to us.
“It was a neat thing to see as a student. Myself and others lifted in preparation for wrestling at the junior high.”
Risley was present in the weight room for years from 4-9 p.m. during the summer three days a week and from 4-6 p.m. three days a week during the school year.
All of the money raised from the camp went directly into the weight room to purchase more free weights and equipment.
Halfar said it was a no-brainer to seek recognition on Risley’s behalf.
“Mr. Risley would roam around (the weight room) trying to encourage and help everyone,” Halfar said. “The endless amounts of time that Riz has spent with kids in the weight room is immeasurable.
“He loved all the kids like they were his own. He often sacrificed time with his family to open up the weight room, create lifting programs, and fill out lifting progress sheets by hand for kids.
“He helped athletes of all M-S sports and any students who were interested in lifting. He really just loved how the weight room taught kids that long-term hard work and consistency can pay off.”
Risley’s interest in weight training can be traced back to his freshman year at the University of Illinois, when he enrolled in a power weightlifting class.
“I had a great instructor who was an accomplished power-lifter,” Risley said. “He talked about all of the theories about how to lift, how to prepare kids, when to push kids and when to back off.
“I learned a lot, and I’m still learning today.”
Two years ago, Risley entered a lifting competition in Santa Claus, Ind., and set a still-standing Indiana state record for his age (60-64) and his weight class (275) in the bench press, lifting 360 pounds in a pause technique.
“What it tells you,” Risley quipped, “is there aren’t many 61-year-olds lifting.
“It’s a really healthy thing to do, if you do it right. The benefits far outweigh the risks.”
Risley emphasized that he was far from the only person who built the weight room into what it is today.
Bob Grammar, Steve Hilliard, Chet Crowley, Rob Washburn, Dan Ryan and Tom Shallenberger as well as numerous Mahomet-Seymour coaches, were instrumental in the development.
If the school board votes in favor of the proposal, Risley said “I will accept in honor of their contributions. They were some of the main agents involved in the past, present and future.”
Recognition or not, the district’s strength and conditioning guru is not thinking about stepping aside.
“I hope to do it for a long time to come,” Risley said.
It is fitting that Risley’s academic subject of choice was history.
If the Mahomet-Seymour weight room is named in his honor, it would create a permanent remembrance in the history books about his unparalleled legacy.