Illinois pitching coach Mark Allen (Illinois Athletics)

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Illinois rallies behind pitching coach Mark Allen

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Earlier this year, Illinois pitching coach Mark Allen was diagnosed with cancer. He had started the 2024 season with the team, traveling initially to North Carolina to play Akron, Wake Forest, and Fordham and was involved with the program upon their return to Champaign. Since those first few weeks, however, Coach Allen has taken a leave of absence to focus on his health.

Allen was named Illinois’ pitching coach in October of 2019 spending the previous nine seasons serving as a pitching coordinator in both the San Francisco Giants and Cleveland Guardians organizations. Allen also has experience as an area scout, a crosschecker and a coach with Cleveland, doing just about everything involved with player development.

His involvement with the individual players and the personal relationships he has built on a foundation of trust has made his absence that much more difficult for Illinois head coach Dan Hartleb and the players on the team. Remarkably, the Illini are currently in first place in the Big Ten with a 13-5 in-conference record (28-16 overall) and are coming off a series win against Ohio State.

Coach Hartleb reached out to D1Baseball hoping to spread the word about Allen’s health, already receiving well wishes and monetary donations for Allen and his family helping to offset the cost of the medical expenses that accompany any and all battles with cancer.

Parents of the current rostered players have conducted their own fundraisers, selling t-shirts to help show their support and spread awareness during these challenging times.

The Illinois players, coaches and family members show their support to remain #ALLENSTRONG

“He’s going through some extensive treatments,” Hartleb explained. “Early on he and I talked a lot. He’s had a lot of bad days so we text more than we talk [now]. He’s gone through some extensive radiation, he did that over a five-day period with high levels of radiation, and now he’s starting four months of chemotherapy. It’s hard, it’s hard on him. Like most people that go through this he does not feel good. They’re trying to manage things the best they can with pain meds and [other] things, but he’s going through a lot.”

Coach Allen is enduring this battle with his wife, Angela, and their two daughters, Skylar and Avery. Both daughters compete in beach volleyball, with Skylar doing so at South Carolina and Avery being a senior in high school committed to play at Boise State.

One of Allen’s pupils, Cam Hill, agreed to join the Illinois coaching staff on an interim basis to help with the pitching staff. Hill is actually working out hoping to resurface with a big league team after making his debut with the then-Cleveland Indians during the COVID-shortened 2020 season. In 18 relief appearances that year Hill went 2-0 with a 4.91 ERA and a pair of saves.

“He had been in the facility with Mark along with some of the other guys so there was some facial recognition,” Hartleb said of Hill’s involvement. “Guys knew him a little bit from those times working with Mark, [so there was] a little bit of comfort from knowing him. Training with Mark the terminology was going to be the same, communication between Cam and Mark is very good … he knows what Mark’s mindset is and how he goes about pushing guys, helping guys, communicating with guys. You can never say ‘seamless’ when there’s a change, but we’ve had a very, very good situation come out of a very, very tough situation.”

More than anything Coach Hartleb reiterated his concern for Coach Allen and his family, while also sharing his appreciation for interim coach Cam Hill.

“All of our prayers are with Mark and his family, that’s a given,” Hartleb said. “There’s a great appreciation for Cameron. He basically picked up his life while he’s training to come back and help out his mentor and help out our team. It’s pretty special when you do have people that don’t put themselves first, they put everybody else around them before themselves.”

“Our guys have done a great job,” Hartleb continued, explaining the team’s success despite the challenges they’ve faced. “We started out and played a tough schedule and struggled. We struggled both physically and mentally. We basically hit rock bottom at one point of the season and a lot of times you have individuals or whole teams that will quit. This group rallied, they made some adjustments that we asked and they truly care about each other.”

If you would like to show your support to Illinois assistant coach Mark Allen and his family, please consider a monetary donation using the dedicated GoFundMe page:

https://gofund.me/bc24f18e

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