20 Years of Islander Pride

Staff Reports | Published: July 03, 2019

20 Years of Islander Pride

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Islanders Athletics, we reflect on the milestones that raised the standard for what the department achieved and its goals for the future. Growth of the department over the last two decades is a point of pride for alumni and students, as well as those in the Corpus Christi community who wear the Blue & Green.

“Athletics is a rallying point for students,” Island University President Dr. Kelly Quintanilla said. “Athletics is also a huge component in the outreach of an institution, because many people’s first exposure to a university is due to them seeing or reading about an athletic event.”

The current athletics program started with director Dan Viola, who was hired in May 1997. Viola rebuilt Islanders Athletics starting with a one-man staff, an office and a desk, without a telephone. However, he did have a goal: to catapult the Islanders to becoming a NCAA Division I school.

Five years later, the Island University was accepted for NCAA Division I status and currently competes in 16 men’s and women’s intercollegiate sport programs. Since joining the Southland Conference in 2005, the Islanders have captured 36 regular season and tournament championships.

Two of the most memorable athletic moments this past year occurred in basketball and baseball.

Most people in the Coastal Bend recognize the name Joseph Kilgore because 2018 was a big year for him. In March 2018, Kilgore recorded a perfect score and took home the title of Slam Dunk Champion at the State Farm College Slam Dunk Contest Championship, putting the City of Corpus Christi and the Island University on the national stage. The contest was part of the NCAA Final Four festivities and aired live on ESPN 2 for millions to see. His performance earned him the number 5 spot on ESPN’s Top 10 that evening. The City of Corpus Christi also recognized April 25 as “Joseph Kilgore Day,” and he finished the year being drafted by the Windy City Bulls in the 12th pick overall.

Another Islanders athlete who also found himself in the national spotlight in 2018 was Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez, a sophomore and pitcher for Islanders Baseball, started in 14 games. He also struck out 102 batters in 83.0 innings, becoming only the seventh Islander to reach 100 strikeouts in a single season. In June, his winning performance on the field caught the attention of the Los Angeles Angels and he was selected to play Major League Baseball in the third round of the 2018 draft.

Steven King, Director of Broadcasting and Development for Islanders Athletics, has been part of the program since its resurrection in 1997. He recalled several milestones that are indicative of the department’s growth.

In 2007, long distance runner Shadrack Songok trained at Cabaniss Field, located near Corpus Christi’s westside, because the University didn’t have a track for him to run on, King recalled.

It may have been an inconvenience, but Songok persevered and became a three-time NCAA champion, winning the 10,000-meter run twice and the 5,000 once. Songok was the school’s first NCAA Champion.

Another milestone was when the Islanders moved their basketball games from Memorial Coliseum to the new American Bank Center in downtown Corpus Christi. 

“It gave the program immediate credibility as having one of the best home arenas in Texas,” King said. “This gave the team a tremendous amount of pride and perspective that not only the University, but the community was giving their support and commitment.”

The 2006-07 Islanders men’s basketball team soared to the athletic program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance. Under head coach Ronnie Arrow, the Islanders took the Southland Conference with a program record 26 wins. The season remains the benchmark for wins while also holding another five records to this day and put Islanders Athletics in the limelight.

“In the first year, we had no games, we had two players and we went out recruiting,” Arrow said. “We went from no program at all to seven years later being in the NCAA tournament.”

During the past decade, several athletics buildings were constructed that many Islander student-athletes now call their second homes. These facilities helped shape the department’s image and appeal to future Islanders. They include the Dugan Wellness Center in 2009, Thomas J. Henry Tennis Center in 2011, Dr. Jack Dugan and Family Track and Soccer Stadium in 2013, and the sand volleyball courts at Momentum Village in 2015.

 “It was important for me to invest in our student-athletes and create a space that would assist our coaches and staff in winning championships,” said Dr. Jack Dugan. “Supporting our home town team is something that I feel strongly benefits the Corpus community.”

Many individuals, including administrators, coaches and student-athletes helped lay the foundation for success. Now, 20 years later, current Director of Athletics Jon Palumbo said he is focused on the future and continuing the momentum.

“We have a dedicated staff, experienced coaches and talented student-athletes,” Palumbo said. “Our department is poised to help shape the trajectory of a university that recently received a Tier 2 Carnegie classification, has seen almost $350 million in construction over the past decade, and boosted undergraduate enrollment 29 percent since 2012.”

Palumbo joined the Islanders in October 2018. The department that once housed a one-man staff now has more than 75 employees and a budget of nearly $12 million supporting 245 student-athletes from around the world.

A former La Salle University baseball player, Palumbo spent the past six years as the Deputy Director of Athletics at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was instrumental in developing and implementing a culture of fostering and sustaining success, growing a brand and generating revenue—all of which he plans to accomplish at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi as well.

His five-year strategic plan focuses on becoming a prominent and successful Division I program and building a strong relationship with the community to further enhance Islander engagement.

“With the support of University leadership and the student body, the hard work and dedication of our coaches and student-athletes, and the investment of our alumni and local community, the sky is the limit for Islanders Athletics,” Palumbo said.

ISLANDERS HIGHLIGHTS

1997 Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi revives its intercollegiate athletics program.

2001 Islanders men’s basketball defeats the Texas Tech Red Raiders in Lubbock.

2002 Athletic Department is accepted for NCAA Division I status.

2003 Islanders baseball upsets Texas A&M on the Aggies’ home field.

2005 Islanders Athletics is invited to Southland Conference.

2009 The Dr. Jack and Susie Dugan Wellness Center becomes the campus home for Islanders volleyball and select men’s and women’s basketball games.

2015-2016 Women’s volleyball wins back-to-back Southland championships and appears in two straight NCAA tournaments, going undefeated in Southland play during that span.

2016-2018 Women’s tennis wins three straight Southland Conference regular season titles, two Southland Conference tournament championships and has two NCAA tournament appearances.

2005-2018 Men’s tennis wins 10 regular season Southland Conference titles and seven Southland Conference tournament championships.

2018 Jon Palumbo joins A&M-Corpus Christi as the new athletic director.