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This week in Illinois boys track & field

It certainly was a busy week in track in the state of Illinois. As you know, the Illinois Prep Top Times Classic was last weekend in Bloomington. Great performances all over the place that we will get to in a minute.

With the tougher qualifying standards, the meet had fewer competitors but more of an elite feel to the competition. The Class A competition ended on time Friday night. Saturday’s competition ended on time. That is considered a success since last year’s meet ended close to midnight.

The one big change that will occur in the 2013 edition of the meet will occur on Saturday. The 2A & 3A meets will alternate schedules every other year. Next year, the 3A meet will go first.

We will not talk about the distance performances in this blog today. We will save that for a new feature that will debut on Saturday. So be patient….

~~ The 3A mile relay controversy ~~

Everywhere you looked at last Saturday’s meet, athletes were falling on the track. Tevin Hopkins of Minooka was bumped off the track during his section of the 400 Meter Dash and landed in the Long Jump pit. A runner on Lane Tech’s 4 x 800 Meter Relay tumbled during an exchange and was able to get up and continue. Lane Tech finished third in the race.

In the 1600 Meter Run, it came down to a dive by both Malachy Schrobilgen of Oak Park-River Forest and Garrett Lee of Belvidere North. It came down to a photo finish to determine that Schrobilgen was the winner by five hundredths of a second.

But the craziest outcome happened during the last event of the evening the Boys 1600 Meter Relay.

At the finish, it was Thornwood winning, St. Charles East second, Minooka third, and Waubonsie Valley fourth. But that was before all the discussions began between all of the officials.

Flags were flying during this race meaning that someone was going to get disqualified. It was determined that both Minooka and Thornwood were disqualified. Both camps were dismayed and thought that the calls were not correct.

I know it has been a few days and probably everyone had calmed down about this. I had a chance to look at two videos of the race.

The first video was the one that I shot from the balcony by the start/finish area. There we could see infraction #1 that Minooka committed. Officials determined that the Minooka lead off runner cut in too early after the first lap. Looking at the video, it shows that Minooka cut from their position in lane 6 and moved into lane 5 just before the cut-in cones.

The second infraction was on the Thornwood team. It was said by the officials on the final leg of the relay that the final Thornwood runner elbowed Minooka’s anchorman. From the video that I shot, since this happened at the other end of the track, you could really not see what happened. All you could see is some commotion on the one end but nothing else.

Watch the Video here.

Another video was brought to my attention on Wednesday. It was shot from the back stretch and could see all of the action of the second infraction. In that, you can see Minooka had position in lane one, Waubonsie Valley was trying to pass on the outside, and Thornwood was behind Minooka. The Minooka runner started to move on the outside heading into the turn. Thornwood saw that opportunity and tried to pass on the inside. Problem was, Minooka sensed it and closed the hole. It forced Thornwood off the track where they ran more than 3 steps off the track. When they tried to get back in, there were physical actions going on between the two squads. I think the right call was made on this.

Watch the video here.

~~ High Jump ~~

I believe the 3A High Jump could have been one of the wildest High Jump competitions that I have ever seen. Kevin Spejcher of Lake Park took advantage of an off day by Carl Heinz of Oak Park-River Forest. I do not think I have seen Heinz miss so much in this event. I am not trying to take anything away from Spejcher by no means. The Lake Park jumper was hitting his mark and made his clearances look effortless. It will be fun to watch these two compete again. The next time they will meet is in May at the State Meet.

Watch the interview with Kevin Spejcher here.

Was it the four hour car ride the reason that Chester’s Kyle Landon started so early in the competition last Friday night? He was the #1 seeded jumper coming into the event with a seasonal best of 6-10. The next closest jumper had a season best of 6-3. In all reality, he could have entered the competition at that height. Instead, he came in at 5-11. That is pretty early for an elite jumper like that. Even his coach Steve Spears agreed.

“I think it was too early for him to come in, but he has to come to that conclusion by himself,” said Spears. “When we were at the SIU Invitational (where he jumped 6-10), the SIU jumps coach told us that a jumper usually only has 6 good jumps in a meet.”

Landon did clear 6-9 Friday night to win the event. But with all the attempts that he took at lower heights, would he have been able to clear 7-0. His reasoning made sense. “I hurt my knee before the Charleston Invitational,” Landon said. He only cleared 6-4 at that meet. “I did not know how it was going to feel. That is why I came in early.”

Well that and the four hour drive to the meet. That can tighten up your legs.

Watch the interview with Kyle Landon here.

~~ Big surprise in the 3A Pole Vault ~~

The meet was just ending and I was talking to a coach about the night’s proceedings. I turned around and there standing was Eric Gordon of Normal Community West. He thanked me for what I wrote in the preview about him for the meet. The problem was that he did not have a good night by his standards.

The last two meets, he went over 16-0 twice. At this meet, Gordon had to settle for fourth place and only a 14-6 clearance. Joe Ward of Rockford Jefferson won the event with a clearance of 15-0.

“I got to greedy tonight. During the warm-ups, my steps were off and even after I made adjustments, it still wasn’t there,” said Gordon.

I asked him if maybe he got a little overconfident coming into this.

He thought for a second and then nodded his head. “I think you can say that,” he continued. I should have worried about place instead of worrying about performance.”

He learned a big lesson last Saturday night. Probably a mistake that he won’t make again at the state meet.

~~ Last minute addition in the Shot Put ~~

Josh Freeman of Cary-Grove was not in our meet preview. The reason being was because his coach had paid for him to compete in this meet, but did not enter him. He was allowed to compete on Saturday where he won the competition with a second round put of 62-3.5. Mark Balmes of Hersey placed 2nd on his final put going 57-7.25, an almost two foot improvement on his PR.

Freeman’s goals are pretty simple for outdoors. “I would really like to break the record at state (Jeremy Kline’s 66-5.75 set last year),” he said.

Watch Josh Freeman’s interview here.

~~ Meets this week ~~

It is pretty much of an off week for most of the boy’s teams in the state with most of the attention on the girls. But there are a few meets that will be contested this weekend that will be worth watching.

On Friday in Southern Illinois, the O’Fallon Relays will be contested.

Saturday, there will be a pair of meets. Out in the Quad Cities, the Gene Shipley Invitational will be contested in Moline. It is a Co-Ed Meet. On the campus of North Park College in Chicago, there will be the Mather Invitational where some of the top Chicago schools will be competing.

In Memorandum

William Lee “Willie” May

1936 – 2012

It is hard to find a place to start with this. Even though I was not an athlete of his, I did get a chance to compete against some of his athletes while I was running. I was also associated with this great man when I helped out with the old International Prep Invitational and he was a big part of it.

Coach May passed away on Wednesday evening from amyloidosis, which is a rare blood disease.

So where do I start.

I can start with the accomplishments that he achieved while he was competing. He helped his school Blue Island Eisenhower capture the state championship in 1955 winning the 120 Yard High Hurdles, the 180 Yard Low Hurdles, and was a member of the winning 880 Yard Relay.

He won 7 Big Ten Championships while competing for Indiana University. He won the silver medal at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, finishing only .01 seconds behind two time Olympic winner Lee Calhoun.

“Whenever he talked about that, he would always swear that he won that race,” said Vernon Hills Track Coach Alan Janulis.

He became an assistant coach at Evanston Township High School in 1967 under his friend, teammate and Coach of the Wildkits Ron Helberg. Together they won 4 state team championships. He took over as Head Coach in 1975 where he continued until 2006.

While as head coach, his teams brought back 5 trophies from Charleston including a state championship in 1979. I lost count when I was looking up how many medalists he had during that time, but I think it was close to 60.

Then there are the intangibles that are actually more important than intangibles. I guess it is not right to call it intangibles.

He was always there to praise when praise was required and instruction when a mistake was made by one of his athletes. I remember running in a Frosh Soph Invite that Evanston hosted in 1978. I tied for the win in the 3000 with my teammate Tim Krull. I think I ran 9:10. I was ecstatic because it was a PR and that it was my first win in my high school career. As I was walking back to our team area, Coach May was setting up hurdles for the next race. As he was doing that, he stopped and shook my hand. “That was a good race son.” I knew who he was. That meant a lot to me.

I also remember the following year at the state meet. Evanston won the team championship behind the heroic efforts of Bob McGee. The senior won the 120 Yard Highs, the 330 Lows, and brought his team back from 40 yards on his anchor leg for the relay win and the team championship. Coach May hugged an exhausted McGee after that race and he was beaming, a smile a mile wide across his face. Come to think of it, I can’t think of a time where I did not see Coach May smiling.

I would have to say that his biggest achievement was the young men that were in that program and learned so much from him. They learned a lot more than track while competing for Coach May. His athletes always showed great sportsmanship. They were always congratulating their competition whether winning or losing. You hardly ever saw the Wildkits make a mistake at the state meet in a relay because they were properly taught by their coach. They came into Evanston Township High School as naïve boys. They left as proper young men. He not only taught them the disciplines of track, but he also taught them the disciplines of life. There are many Evanston alumni out there that can attest to this.

I know the Illinois High School coaching community has lost a legend that gave SO much to the sport. I know there will be many coaches that will miss his prescience at meets and the smile that was contagious. He may be physically gone, but the legacy that he left with the current Evanston Township athletes and program will live on forever.

Thank you Coach May. We will miss you.