Michael “MC” Collins was 22 years old. He was less than two months away from his 23rd birthday. He was just weeks away from walking across a stage, flashing that precious smile, and proudly accepting his diploma as a graduate of Illinois State University with a degree in Exercise Science. He was just two days away from coaching first base on opening day of his second season as an assistant coach with his Dad at University High School.
On March 28th Michael enjoyed a formal sorority dance at ISU and an evening out with several friends. They did the right thing, calling a designated driver for a ride home and using their seatbelts. Unfortunately across town, a 37 year old mom, already on probation for her 4th felony, made a much different decision. She got behind the wheel of her 2014 Camaro with a blood alcohol level more than twice the legal limit for driving, and with no regard for human life, hurtled the car down a high-traffic street at speeds exceeding 130 mile per hour.
A horrific crash…two brain surgeries…five days clinging for his life. Michael Collins went to be with his Lord and Savior on April 2, 2014.
A Life Well Lived
Michael was a middle infielder and pitcher at Normal West High School when they won back-to-back Big 12 conference championships in 2009 and 2010. He earned All-Conference recognition in both 2009 and 2010. He was selected to the Illinois Coaches Association All-Star games in 2010 and was a member of the Big 12 All-Academic team in 2010.
Michael played two years of college baseball at Heartland Community College and made consecutive trips to the NJCAA World Series in Enid, OK in 2011 and 2012. The 2011 team was the first Heartland team to advance to the World Series. In 2012 Michael hit .400, pacing Heartland to the Region 24 championship and a second consecutive World Series birth. Michael capped off his baseball career with a 3-hit game against Western Oklahoma and a glorious home run against Madison College, leading the Hawks to a best-ever 3rd place finish. Michael excelled in the classroom at Heartland as well, earning NJCAA Academic All-American recognition in 2012.
Michael was so proud of his work at Illinois State. He was awarded a Bachelors of Science degree in Exercise Science from Illinois State University. His parents, Jim and Kelly, accepted his diploma at his funeral. ISU professors and classmates spoke of a wonderful student with an infectious smile and an ability to help make all the classes more fun and enjoyable.
Even while carrying a full load of classes at ISU, Michael gave back to the game of baseball by serving as an assistant coach at University High School. He made it clear to the Head Coach (his Dad) he wanted all the duties and responsibilities of a full-time assistant coach. He devoted himself to the role, attending all practices, workouts and games and making a tremendous impact on the young men in the U-High baseball program.
Michael was passionate about many things but the greatest joy he brought his family was his faith in God and his relationship with the Lord. His favorite scripture was Philippians 4:13, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.”
In life there are givers and there are takers. Michael was a giver. He signed up to be an organ donor not because his parents or anyone told him to, but because it was simply the right thing to do. He gave even in his death. His organ and tissue donation through the Gift of Hope have had a positive impact on hundreds of lives. His liver, pancreas and kidneys live on. He even restored sight to a blind woman in New York. He is our hero.
Saddened by his death, a friend of Michael’s set up a page on Facebook asking people to “Pay It Forward” in honor of Michael. She assumed it would help a few friends and family in the community cope with Michael’s death. God had bigger plans…
Over 20,000 people liked the page on Facebook. Random acts of kindness in loving memory of Michael were reported in Bloomington-Normal, surrounding communities, and across the state of Illinois. The movement spread to other states, and eventually to other countries around the world!
Michael and the powerful, inspirational “Pay It Forward” movement were reported in the May 19th, 2014 issue of Sport Illustrated!
“He helped others look to follow God”
When Michael was a junior at Normal West his Dad, an assistant baseball coach, led a study of Tony Dungy’s book, “Dare to be Uncommon.” As an exercise for a portion of the study, the players were asked to write their own obituary. Michael wrote, “He was a strong believer in Jesus Christ and helped others look to follow God. He enjoyed making people laugh until he died.”
November 2014, seven months after Michael’s passing; Brian and Jenny Bland posted a story on the Pay It Forward for Michael Collins page. The Blands are missionaries from LeRoy, IL, working to spread the good news of Jesus Christ in the Dominican Republic. They shared Michael’s picture and his story with a group of Dominican Republic children. The children held up photos of Michael and shared baseballs with “MC Strong” written on them, all while hearing Michael’s story and his love for Jesus.
His story is not finished…