Evanston Township High School shared the sad news of Willie May’s passing Wednesday evening, March 28, after his battle with the rare blood disease, amyloidosis. Long-time ETHS Athletic Director, PE teacher and Head Coach of Boys’ Track & Field, Coach May served the students of ETHS since the late 1960’s. Even after his retirement as AD and PE teacher in 2000 and then as Head Coach in 2006, Coach May continued as an assistant coach right through the start of this his 45th season at ETHS.
Born in Alabama in 1936, Willie May burst onto the Illinois Track & Field scene in 1955 as he led Blue Island High School (now Eisenhower HS) to an Illinois State Championship while personally collecting three gold medals in the 120-yard high hurdles, 180-yard low hurdles and 880-yard relay (with Ron Helberg). He then went on to Indiana University where he won seven Big Ten Championships in the hurdles between 1957-1959. Then in 1960 at the Olympic Games in Rome, Willie May won the silver medal in the 110-meter hurdles. After earning another silver medal at the 1963 Pan American Games, Coach May decided to begin his teaching and coaching career and found a home at ETHS in 1967 where he served as an assistant coach to his former Blue Island teammate, Ron Helberg, winning four IHSA State Championships in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974. After taking over as Head Coach in 1975, Coach May led the Wildkits to twenty-six CSL Conference Championships which included a run of twenty-four consecutive titles between 1976-1999. Coach May also guided ETHS to five IHSA State Trophies including the State Championship in 1979 and developed over 50 medalists during his tenure as Head Coach. In 1983, Willie May was hired as Evanston’s Athletic Director, a post he retained for the next sixteen years while continuing to teach Physical Education. Coach May has been inducted into the Indiana University Athletic Hall of Fame (2000), the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2007) and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame (2010) as well as being named the Greatest Athlete in the history of Blue Island High School.
While all of the trophies and medals distinguish Coach May in the history books, what will always define Coach May for me was the grace, humility and strength with which he carried himself and his teams at Evanston Township High School. In a word, he was nobility. While soft spoken, the power of his raspy voice inspired and elevated his student-athletes on and off the oval to great heights in track, in school and most importantly in life. He was also a great mentor to many ETHS coaches as a colleague and Athletic Director. Whether it was a story from another era or just the perfect quote, Coach May knew how to advise a coach on how to handle a situation without having to tell the coach what to do.
His slow, steady stride around the fieldhouse track and his warm smile and confidence in the athletic office will be missed. He was able to touch the lives of thousands of Evanston students in so many ways during his 45 year reign at ETHS.