Not having a track doesn’t stop Leo H.S. from winning

By Bob Bajek | Contributor
Sunday, September 9, 2012

Winning the IHSA 1A state track championship two years running is impressive. But to win without track facilities is quite extraordinary.

That’s what Leo High School, 7901 S. Sangamon St., a small school with 150 boys, has accomplished with a combination of talent, discipline and a bit of luck.

“They’re surprised that we are this good without a facility,” senior runner Marlon Britton said. “We’re not surprised because of how hard we train without one. Having a facility doesn’t make a difference. It’s how hard you work.”

Britton and his Lion teammates have won two consecutive state championships. In 2011, then-senior Bruce Gray tied Peoria Christian’s Jon Hutchison in the 100-meter dash to help Leo edge Harrisburg 42-41.

In May, Keith Harris Jr. and Theo Hopkins underperformed in the 200-meter dash, but Eureka’s 4x400 relay team placed fifth ahead of Newton in the final race and clinched Leo a 35-34 victory.

“When you get down there, you have to be lucky,” said Leo track coach and athletic director, Ed Adams, of state championships. “We might be the only school who has won state track meets by one point. So God’s good to us.”

Cardinal George went to Leo to bless the team before May’s state meet and sought out Adams. “He told me, ‘So you are the Miracle Man!’” Adams said. “When he said that to me, I was so positive that I knew we were going to win the second one. You are the first person I told that too. I haven’t even told my mom.”

Adams has guided Leo the last 20 years and to six of its seven state titles despite lacking both an indoor and outdoor facility. Many of the city’s public and private educational institutions don’t have an indoor track; however, Leo is one of a minority that also lacks an outdoor track.

Adams has the boys run and jump hurdles in the hallways, do high jump in the auditorium and throw outside. When the weather warms, the Lions travel to other open tracks for practice.

“I think we have great talent and character on our team,” Adams said. “We go out everyday and try to have fun everyday at practice and the meets. We know there are going to be pitfalls and ups and downs. We do a lot of praying before and after our meets about what God has in store for us.”

Before each practice and meet, the Lions pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and a Prayer for Runners asking God to grant the athletes faith in him and themselves.

Leo principal Phil Mesina said prayer is vital to Leo’s mission of developing its students’ faith life.

“When we pray, we put ourselves into God’s presence, and we become very focused to the task at hand,” Mesina said. “We stop thinking about the troubles that we might have in life and know what we need to accomplish. I think that’s why prayer is so important with the team.”

Not only have the students done well on the field, but have excelled in the classroom, too, by receiving a team scholarship from IHSA for collectively having a 3.0 or higher GPA six of the past nine years.

“We just don’t have track athletes; we have student-athletes,” Adams said. “They work really hard in the classroom.”

Mesina said that he is proud of the track team’s athletic and academic accomplishments, especially since many team members also play football or run cross country.

“We say a faith life is a disciplined life,” Mesina said. “We want to educate them in body, mind and spirit. They don’t have to win a championship for us to feel successful. We feel that by participating in athletics, doing well academically and keeping out of trouble met our goals.”

Adams said an outdoor track would cost roughly $100,000 after securing the land. Mesina said there has been talk from alumni of funding one, but he said the bad economy has prevented that.