Tradition plays an important role in the Evanston Township High School girls track program, and on May 21 the Wildkits continued their tradition of excellence by claiming first place in the 800 and 1,600 meter relays at the Class 3A State Championship.
The Wildkits won the 800 relay by a narrow margin, finishing in 1:39.55, just .03 seconds ahead of East St. Louis Senior. With a time of 3 minutes 48.71 seconds, Evanston picked up the victory in the 1,600 relay, coming in 2 .24 seconds ahead of second place finishers Downers Grove South.
Five runners competed in 800 and 1,600 meter relays, with senior Danyale Griffin, junior Margaret Bamgbose and freshman Parker English running in both events.
Griffin and Bamgbose also ran in the 400 meter relay alongside senior Alexa Bolden, and junior Jahnell Horton. However, the girls came up short and finished second in the state finals, just .37 seconds behind Lincoln Way East.
Bolden also ran with the 800-meter winning squad and Horton ran in the 1,600 meter relay despite a hamstring injury she suffered earlier in the day.
“It felt really good to be able to compete and come back,” Horton said. “I wasn’t sure if I could do it but I had to because it was for my team, they needed me.”
Evanston overcame injuries and setbacks earlier in the day to compete well in the relays.
“Regardless of what the outcome is, we’re just always pressing our kids to be competitive,” head coach Fenton Gunter said. “To make sure that the alumni, the girls who came before them, were impressed with their performances.”
When the team struggled, Evanston alumni and former members of the squad were able to talk to the girls and motivate them for the next event coach Gunter said.
“Once you work out with us and join the squad, you become a part of the squad,” the coach said. “That consistency makes us the program that we are. All our female coaches ran for us, our kids can’t get away from tradition.”
From the alumni to their teammates, the girls track program has a strong sense of unity and tradition.
“Just to have them come back and support us especially when we were down in the dumps it really helped,” Griffin said.
Griffin is no stranger to state competition. She won the state championship for the 1,600 meter relay as a sophomore in 2009. This season, though, she and the team had to work to rebound from a disappointing 2010.
“We had to stay focused throughout the season and do our best at every meet because it mattered and helped us prepare for state,” Griffin said. “It just felt good, and I am so glad I ended on a positive not.”
“As we tell any of the kids that we have for an extended period of time, we expect them to do certain things,” coach Gunter said of Griffin’s performance at the state finals. “She did what she was supposed to do, which was be competitive and lead an underclassmen group.”
Bolden, a multi-sport athlete with the Wildkits, made her first trip down state with the girls track program. The coach said that he was proud of her as well, and that it was good for her to finish her career at ETHS by winning some awards at the state championship.
Though Bolden was not on the track for the 1,600 meter relay, she said that she was still cheering loud for her Wildkit teammates.
“The last leg I ripped my jacket off and was waving the Wildkits jacket,” Bolden said. “I turned to the crowd and yelled, ‘This is the school to beat. Go Wildkits,’ I got so many stares. I never felt that much anxiety even in a race.”
Coach Gunter said that it will be up to Bambgose, English and Horton to continue the tradition for the girls track program at ETHS.