EAST MOLINE — Chris Palmer has a message for the young people he works with every day during the school year at United Township High School, and during the summer months with the Martin Luther King Center in Rock Island.
“I was who you are, I come from where you live, I was raised by a single mother, and I am achieving my life’s goals, and so can you,” advises the UT football great.
While Palmer was growing up in East Moline, his mother, Diann Palmer, understood the “village” concept of raising her children, as a single, working parent.
“My mother had seven brothers and sisters, and countless neighbors, friends and relatives who all watched over my brother and myself,” Palmer said. “They provided us with guidance and direction, sometimes with a pat on the back, and other times with a different approach, if you know what I mean.”
That guidance worked, because Palmer, who graduated from UT in 1989, is one of the most celebrated student/athletes in Quad-Cities history.
As a senior, he was a USA Today all-American running back in football, and all-state and all-conference in football and track as a junior and senior. That’s the athlete part of student/athlete; Palmer also achieved high honor roll status each year in high school, and was inducted into the National Honor Society as well.
“My uncle, Gary Palmer, who is now deceased, paved the way for me and served as my mentor,” said Palmer. “He was an outstanding athlete at UT, and taught me the basic principles for success in athletics, academics and life; to work harder than anyone else, to listen, to be coachable, to show respect for my teammates and opponents, and to give everything on the field and in the classroom.”
That taught Palmer how important it is for young people to have a role model. The UTHS Hall of Fame member is currently working as a special education paraprofessional with behavior disorder students at UT, and also serving as a coaching staff member for football and track.
When you’re as good as Palmer was as a football player and student, there’s little wonder that he received scholarship offers from Nebraska, Michigan, Notre Dame, LSU, Arkansas, West Point, the Naval Academy, Stanford and the University of Iowa. But, something about the Hawkeyes seemed to be a natural fit for the UTHS star.
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“The U of I staff made me feel as if I belonged as soon as I arrived in Iowa City for my official visit,” Palmer said. “They had a well-structured plan for how I would fit in with the team, and even the people on the street were friendly and welcoming.”
Palmer played running back and special teams for four years under legendary Iowa coach Hayden Fry. “Everything you’ve heard about Coach Fry is true; he was totally in charge, and found ways to get the very best effort out of all of us,” Palmer said about his fabled coach. “He also had a great sense of humor, he was honest and fair, and we definitely knew that he expected us to focus on academics, graduate, and represent the university with class.”
After graduating from the U of I in 1993, Palmer thought briefly about giving professional football a try, but he knew that a very small percentage of running backs, even from Big 10 schools, made it in the NFL.
“There was no money to be made in the Canadian Football League at that time, and I was offered the chance to enter into management with Foot Locker and Champs in the Chicago area, so I was ready to put my degree to work,” Palmer remembered.
In 2010, he moved back to the Quad-Cities, and remained focused on his own career goals, and earned his master’s degree in education and sports management. Looking to do more to reach younger students, for the past few years he has offered his services to the Martin Luther King Center summer program as a teacher and mentor.
“I know that I cannot reach every young person. Many students are facing pressures and obstacles that seem overwhelming, but I can offer to listen, and by my actions, show each student that I care,” said Palmer about his core philosophy.
Palmer’s long-term goal is to stay where he is, and do as much as he can to connect with students.
Involvement in extra-curricular activities can be crucial in helping students to cope and achieve goals, according to Palmer.
“For me it was sports, I was part of something greater than myself, and I learned to focus and think critically,” he said. “That outlet can make a huge difference for all students, whether they choose music, drama, sports or something that is uniquely theirs.”
“I can be an example of someone who came from where our students are, raised by a single mother, no father in the picture, with an extended family or ‘village’ to shape my life, and hopefully, I can be a small part of helping young people to find their village.”
“I can be a small part of helping young people to find their village.” — Chris Palmer
"I can be a small part of helping young people to find their village."
— Chris Palmer