On September 23rd, Jonelle Polk McCloud was inducted into the Hall of Fame Class of 2022 at the University of Illinois where she played women’s basketball from 1983-1987. Polk McCloud was the winner of the 1987 Big Ten Medal of Honor, Named All-Big Ten first team 2 times, and finished her Illini career-setting records in points (1984) and rebounds (933). These records held for more than a decade. She was the all-time leading scorer for both men and women until the 1993-94 season. She still holds two of the top six scoring season records in the school’s history and ranks sixth for blocked shots. She earned her Master’s degree at Northern Illinois University and also coached at Florida State University and Bradley university. She also has been inducted into the IBCA Hall of Fame and the Greater Peoria Sports Hall of Fame.
Polk McCloud went on to play professionally in Europe and coached at the Division 1 level for women’s basketball at Northern Illinois University, Florida State University, and Bradley University. She founded a travel girls basketball program called the JEMS (Journey to Empowerment through Motivation and Self-esteem) from 2009-2019 which provided opportunities for young women to play basketball, earn scholarships to colleges and learn about life skills.
“As a child, I was bullied. Probably because I was unusually tall, skinny, and gangly, and so I used to shy away from a lot of things. Having noticed this, my parents, enrolled me in a variety of activities that I’m sure they thought would improve my self-esteem, such as judo, gymnastics, piano, swimming and most importantly, basketball! I played for the first time in 6th grade and I remember, I couldn’t play a lick. Ironically, a girl signed my yearbook and wrote, “You aren’t any good at basketball, but good luck anyway,” stated Polk McCloud.
By playing sports, Polk McCloud received so many opportunities. Most importantly, a scholarship offer from the University of Illinois to play women’s basketball and get a good, free education. “As a woman, and most importantly, as a black woman, I am grateful that Title IX was passed. It has given countless girls and women, including myself, the opportunity to fulfill many goals and dreams. I was able to play professionally in France and Italy. I was able to coach young women and girls …including my daughters and right now, I am able to give opportunities to all young people in my hometown of Peoria Illinois. And, I hope that this involvement with these young people has inspired other generations, especially young girls, to get involved in sports,” she stated. Polk McCloud is the General Manager at Proctor Recreational Center.
Jonelle Polk McCloud (right) with husband; Dr. Daniel McCloud, and daughters Jaida McCloud age 20 (a junior at University of Illinois-Chicago on a basketball scholarship), and Jonae McCloud, age 24 (Mizzou graduate and current graphic artist for the Kansas City Chiefs).