As was said before when he took the 2012 Great American Conference individual champion title, give Mulerider Mickey Hammer a challenge and he will not only rise to meet it, he will exceed it. The Southern Arkansas senior men’s cross country runner achieved another milestone in his athletic career to be named as one of 10 finalists for the Crain Automotive Team Star of Tomorrow Award.
The Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame and the Crain Automotive Team made the announcement on Feb. 12 and Mulerider fans have a chance to help propel him to first ranking where he deserves by casting votes at the competition website.
In addition to his major recognitions, Hammer has broken the 2004 SAU record of Adrian Romanos in the 8K, which stood at 24.49 (Hammer’s record time was 24.39 minutes). In the 2012 NCAA Division II Central Region Championships, Hammer finished one spot away from qualifying for the NCAA Division II National Championships.
In response to his achievements in competition, Hammer has been named NCAA Division II All-Central Region, U.S. Track & Field Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) All-Central Region, GAC Runner of the Year, and All-GAC First-Team.
In the classroom, Hammer has amassed a 3.61 G.P.A. and is majoring in exercise science. A four-time member of the Dean’s List, Hammer has also been placed on the GAC and Gulf South Conference (GSC) All-Academic teams in addition to being a USTFCCCA All-Academic selection.
Hammer is used to winning against the odds – making the most out of every opportunity.
Growing up in the small, north Arkansas town of Marshall – a population of about 1,300 – Hammer’s opportunities were limited. Track was about all that was available in the seventh grade.
“They would take us to track meets and randomly place us. Coach threw me in a mile [event] and I came in dead last,” said Hammer. “That was what kind of sparked my interest. I never wanted to experience that losing feeling again. I pretty much trained myself through high school. No coach. I had to open up a lot of doors for myself.”
As a testament of that drive, Hammer collected a list of honors and awards for his dogged determination, including being a four-time recipient of the all-state award in cross country and track. He broke records for the mile, the two mile and 5K for Marshall High School and won several district championships, individually and with his team.
“Why do I run? The feeling of accomplishment every time you finish a run, the excitement when you get out ahead in the race – You get to prove you are one of the best among so many people,” he said.
His favorite event is the 10K, because it’s a longer race.
“You have more time to think about your strategy – Who is going to fall back or speed up. In a 10K, you can figure out the whole race,” he said. “There’s a lot of math and strategy involved. Arkansas is a small market, so you get to learn others quicker. Good strategy comes with experience.”
Asked how fate led him to Southern Arkansas, Hammer said that he got an invite to come check out the campus and the program.
“I didn’t know SAU existed before a phone call. The SAU coach at the time knew that my times weren’t the fastest in high school, but he said they needed a leader,” said Hammer. “My high school coach told him I was one of the best leaders he’d ever seen and he valued that.”
Hammer immediately felt comfortable on the beautiful SAU campus.
“I came for a visit. I really liked it here. The town was close and every one was excited about me coming here. The faculty and staff were really nice. I felt like I was a person, not just a number on the board,” he said.
During his athletic career at SAU, Hammer was named to the all-conference second team (top 20) in the Gulf South Conference, as well as placing in the top 15 in the region, which consists of three conferences. Since SAU became part of a new conference in 2012, Hammer has been named the Great American Conference men’s cross country runner of the week for his performance at the Oklahoma State Cowboy Jamboree in Stillwater, Okla. There, he finished fifth overall out of 206 contestants in the college division of the annual meet, posting a time of 26:08.46 over the 8K course. The senior led the Muleriders to a 10th-place finish among 22 teams competing. The weekly honor is the second this season for Hammer, and the fourth of his career.
The Crain Automotive Team Star of Tomorrow Award honors the top collegiate athlete in Arkansas. It is the only award that recognizes student athletes from across the state based on their achievements on the field of play, their contributions in the community, and their academic success.
Active in the community, Hammer volunteers at the Marshall Physical Therapy Clinic and assists them in out-patient and in-patient therapy. Hammer is also a member of the Ace Project that works on reconstructing different areas on SAU’s campus. A member of SAU’s Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), Hammer has organized and directed the Special Olympics basketball day program, worked with senior citizens on aspects of physical therapy, and has spoken to high school students about life success. Hammer has also served as an advisor for SAU’s Leadership Academy program.
“Mickey is one of the top student-athletes in the history of SAU athletics,” remarks head men’s cross country coach Tim Servis. “His character, dedication, and determination set him apart from most others, not to mention the strength of his athletic talent. His success and contributions to the SAU cross country team over the past four years has been immeasurable. He will be missed, but his legacy won’t be forgotten.”
The winner of the Crain Automotive Team Star of Tomorrow Award is chosen by members of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, the general public, and local media. The winner will be announced at the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame Induction Banquet on March 8 at Verizon Arena.
The fan voting portion of the process will be from Tuesday, February 12th until Wednesday, February 27th. Fans wishing to vote may do so at the contest website.
In addition to Hammer representing Southern Arkansas University, the remaining nine finalists represent in-state institutions at Arkansas State University, Henderson State University, Hendrix College, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Central Arkansas.