Harper Highlight: Jim Macnider is Awarded the Harper’s Distinguished Alumni Award


Jim Macnider gives his Distinguished Alumni Award Speech at Wojcik Conference Center at Harper College on October 26, 2021. (Photo by Trey Heinrich.)

Jim Macnider received a letter that he qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials in 1980. Yet, there was a chance that the U.S could boycott the Olympic games that very year, so there was a low chance of Macnider being able to compete. 

Reluctantly, the U.S caved and allowed the trials to commence, which had allowed Macnider to compete for a spot on the U.S Olympic marathon team, but he did not gain a spot on the team. 

“It was kinda bittersweet but it was fun to be part of that, definitely was,” Macnider recalled. “There’s nothing guaranteed in life. You take it one day at a time and make the most of it.” 

Although he did not become an Olympian in 1980, he was Schaumburg High School’s cross country coach from 1973 to 2010, leading them to the State Championships in 1985. His impact in Schaumburg High School has been greatly recognized by the school, even getting Schaumburg’s cross country course named after him. 

Harper Athletic Director Doug Spiwak said his impact made him an easy candidate to hire. 

“He’s an outstanding recruiter, has a fantastic reputation, does everything I ask him to, always ahead of the game when it comes to paperwork and scheduling and equipment requests,” Spiwak stated. 

Macnider has been coaching cross country for 48 years, and using his experiences, he has awarded Harper with eight straight NJCAA Division III National Championship titles for the men’s cross country team and three titles for the women’s cross country team. 

Macnider has achieved a lot of praise from his colleagues, like Spiwak, but also the athletes he has coached over the years. John Majerus, a former Harper athlete and current assistant coach under Macnider, has garnered a lot of respect for Macnider over the years. 

“So his impact was incomparable, I’ve never had a coach that impactful,” John Majerus said. “Him as a coach and me as an athlete — that is just coaching life.” 

Macnider impacted many of his athletes, like Majerus, in many ways that allowed the team to achieve and win many of those awards. One of those athletes is Darlin Santana, a current Harper student in the paramedic program.

Santana said Macnider taught her the importance of good work ethics. 

“He doesn’t want you to have doubts of how you felt after the race, he just wants you to go out there and run and feel good about it,” Santana said. “He wants everyone to have the same experience and not make them feel less than the others.” 

Another person who felt inspired by Macnider was Maria Knuth, professor in the adult educational development department at Harper and one of the Distinguished Alumni Awards committee members who selected Macnider for this year’s Harper Distinguished Alumni Award. 

Knuth said the committee saw that he is a humble person who is committed to Harper’s values, which encourage kids from both a physical and cognitive point of view. 

One Harper value Macnider embodies is the desire to create a stepping stone for students to find their passion and move forward in either their educational endeavors or career paths after obtaining their associate’s degree. 

“I can’t tell you how many kids I’ve coached and the reason they came to school was to practice and compete, and some by accident got a diploma and maybe went to college and got a career,” Macnider said during his Distinguished Alumni Award speech. 

Majerus is an example of one of the kids that Macnider has coached over the years that has flourished with his guidance. Majerus had trouble with school in the past and struggled with what to do in the future. However, Macnider’s encouragement to pursue higher education and following his passion in cross country led Majerus to his place as one of the assistant cross country coaches at Harper. 

“Coach Mac basically led me to get three degrees: two associate’s degrees and a BA in accounting,” Majerus continued. “He took a kid who did not want to go to school, and basically got him to take 180 credits and pass them all.” 

Spiwak said Macnider has many great assistant coaches that were former athletes and has done a good job mentoring them. One day they could become great head coaches if they choose because of their experience working under him.

Spiwak nominated Macnider for the Distinguished Alumni Award after many years of working with him.

“He’s one of the original Harper students,” Spiwak said. “He’s one of the original athletes, and he’s done nothing but give back to Harper — it’s a place he loves to work and give to students,” Spiwak said. 

Macnider has expressed how rewarding it is to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from Harper and be recognized for the hard work he has done and the impact he had on his athletes, especially since Harper was the stepping stone into his career as a coach and what led him to take part in the ‘80s Olympic Marathon Trials. 

“I think one of the lessons you learn from sports and especially from distance running is consistency and hard work pay off,” Macnider said.