JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – It’s been a year, but the Milligan University community is continuing to live like Eli.

On March 31, 2022, Milligan sophomore and cross-country/track athlete Eli Cramer, 20, was hit and killed by a drunk driver while on a practice run with teammates in Williamsburg, Virginia.

On Friday, March 31, one year after Cramer’s death, Milligan continued his legacy by naming him as a 2023 inductee into the Milligan Athletics Hall of Fame.

The university made the announcement in a press release that was sent out Friday morning, with Milligan President Dr. Bill Greer adding that the honor was well-deserved.

“While his athletic accomplishments alone might be enough justification, when combined with the indelible impact he left on this campus before and after his death, there is no question that Eli Cramer has a place of honor in the Milligan University Athletics Hall of Fame,” Greer said.

Eli Cramer in his Milligan track attire. Photo courtesy of Milligan University.

A Murfreesboro native, Cramer came to Milligan from Riverdale High School as a business major. While a student at Milligan, he excelled in athletics. During the 2021-2022 season, Cramer broke multiple school records, setting the standard in the cross-country 8K and indoor track 5K. He was also a national qualifier in both indoor and outdoor track.

Chris Layne is the head coach for the men’s and women’s cross-country and track and field teams at Milligan. One year to the day after Cramer’s death, Layne is choosing to remember what Cramer loved the most: His faith, his relationships, and, of course, running.

“There was running, and then there was everything else,” Layne said. “If you knew him specifically, you knew how important that part of his life was.”

Cramer first earned All-American status as a freshman and then again as a sophomore when he finished 20th in the 2021 National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) National Championship. Layne said he played an important role in Milligan securing the men’s cross-country championship title, their first NAIA team title in program history.

When he wasn’t making Milligan history as an athlete, Cramer was making Milligan students laugh as a friend.

“A lot of people didn’t realize how funny he was,” Layne said. “He was a jokester.”

One ongoing joke was YMFR, or “Your Mom’s Favorite Runner,” which he wrote on a sleeveless white T-shirt with a marker. Cramer sometimes wore the shirt to practice after first debuting it during a high school meet when he forgot his uniform.

Every member of the Milligan cross-country and track team has a YMFR shirt in honor of Cramer.

Photo courtesy of Ethan Pfister.

Aaron Jones, 21, is a junior at Milligan and a former teammate of Cramer’s. The two became roommates as freshmen and remained so up until his passing in 2022.

“I would say he was my closest friend,” Jones said. “We pretty much did everything together.”

As a cross-country and track team captain, Jones knew the one-year mark would be a difficult time for his teammates.

“We obviously wanted to do something, but we didn’t want to push people’s feelings too far,” Jones said. “[So, we] organized a little team dinner for us to get together today and a picnic for Sunday.”

The picnic will resemble one the team had in the days following the accident, which Jones believes was a positive experience for them.

“He wouldn’t have wanted us to sit around and mope,” Jones said. “He would have wanted us to have fun.”

Photo: Eli Cramer (left) and Aaron Jones (right). Courtesy of Milligan University.

Milligan plans to further Cramer’s legacy within the athletic program, including the continuation of the Eli Cramer Invitational, which saw its inaugural race held this past fall, but notes that his impact reaches off campus as well.

Layne said he has had parents reach out to him regarding the experiences their children had shared with Cramer.

“[They would say] ‘My son met Eli at a cross-country meet, and for the next couple of months, Eli would reach out to him and encourage him,’” Layne said. “[They said] ‘my son wasn’t a great runner, but he now runs because of Eli.’”

Layne said this is a testament to the kind of person Cramer was, a person Jones described as an “outgoing, genuine, and selfless teammate.”

“His impact will be felt for years,” Jones said.

Eli Cramer, along with the other inductees, will be honored during Milligan’s Homecoming celebrations on Oct. 27-28, 2023.