Rewriting history isn’t an easy task competing for the most successful girls track and field state program in Illinois.
But Evanston senior Parker English added her name to a short list of Wildkit greats Saturday as she wrapped up her high school career at the Illinois High School Association Class 3A state meet at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
English captured the first two State individual gold medals of her career, winning both the 200-meter and 400-meter dashes, and also placed 3rd in the 100-meter dash to lead Evanston to a fourth place finish in the team standings.
She made a name for herself despite a public address announcer who constantly referred to her as “English Parker”, becoming the first ETHS sprinter ever to score that double at the state finals. With a winning time of 53.88 seconds in the 400, English became only the second Wildkit to claim the state title at that distance, matching Janis Foster’s feat back in 1989.
And in the 200 — which English won in 24.23 — the short list of Evanston’s state champs includes Shalina Clarke in 2006 and Willetta Page (220 yards) in 1978.
English accounted for most of Evanston’s 30 points as the Kits only trailed repeat team champion Lincoln-Way East (72), West Aurora (39) and St. Charles East (38) in the team standings. Junior Alexia Harvey added a 7th place finish in the 100-meter hurdles and sophomore Gabriell Watson settled for a non-scoring 11th place in the high jump for ETHS.
So where does English rank on the list of all-time Wildkit greats? Veteran head coach Fenton Gunter never puts any individuals on a pedestal within the program, and the unassuming English wasn’t about to lay claim to greatness, either.
The fact that she amassed 13 State medals in four years — including two first-place relay finishes as a freshman — spoke volumes.
“I always say every year here that they came in and they did their job, and that’s what Parker did today,” Gunter said. “She’s up there with the best we’ve had. I can’t rank them — but they’re all on the same line with Parker and it’s a pretty short list of excellent competitors. She’s one of the baddest we’ve ever had, and one of the baddest this state’s ever seen.
“The talent was always there for her. It was just a matter of if this was her time today, if she believed and was ready for it. Not qualifying in the long jump (after placing in the top 12 three straight years) really got her attention yesterday. She realized it’s my last high school competition and I can’t waste this.
“We have a long line of great girls who’ve done their jobs here. Parker accepted her role and didn’t want to let that tradition down.”
English’s bounce-back performance after she came up short in the long jump during Friday’s preliminaries actually began when she broke her own school record in the 400 with a time of 53.80.
“I didn’t get the results I wanted in the long jump. You feel bad, but it’s all about rising about adversity here and that’s something that some of the older girls called and reminded me about,” English said. “Natasha Foreman really helped me a lot. She said once and event is done, you have to let it go and move on to the next one. You can’t take out your frustrations on the next race. The support system we have here at Evanston is really like a family, and I took that advice to heart. Everything happens for a reason.”
English warmed up for her championship runs on the blue oval at Eastern with a 3rd place clocking of 12.00 in the open 100, behind two Lincoln-Way East runners, Meghan Marias (11.87) and Alexis Hyshaw (11.93).
Then in the 400, she started strong only to be passed by a couple of foes midway through the race. She regrouped and chased down 2-time defending state champion Brittney Ellis of Warren and the eventual runnerup, Briyahna Des Rosiers of North Lawndale, in the final 40 meters to grab the gold.
“I owe a lot to coach Gunter,” said English, who will join former teammate Margaret Bamgbose and will continue her running career next year at the University of Notre Dame. “He didn’t put any pressure on me to win a state championship. The last two years in the 400 (back-to-back state 3rd place finishes) I didn’t follow the plan he set out for me and it cost me. Today I got out pretty hard and I don’t really know what was going on in my mind there at the end. I just kept charging, just tried to do my best.”
Like in the 400, English wasn’t about to be denied in the 200, either. She beat Des Rosiers by a margin of 24.23 to 24.47 — despite not using starting blocks in any of her races — to secure her place in the ETHS track history books. “My favorite race is the 200, but you can’t exactly pick and choose when it comes to winning a state championship,” she said.
While English’s dazzling performance came at the conclusion of a brilliant career, the successes of both Harvey and Watson as underclassmen were unexpected. Their showings were also a tribute to the ETHS coaching staff, because Watson only started high-jumping about a month prior to the state finals and Harvey had no experience competing in the hurdles prior to this spring.
Assistant coaches Jessie Sibert and Tameeka McFarlane identified both athletes as having the promise to succeed and took it from there.
“Tameeka is a wonderful coach and she believed in me so much,” said Harvey, who was timed in 15.23 seconds. “She’s always encouraging me. She’s awesome. She drafted me one day in practice, just said ‘you’re a hurdler’ and I said OK.”
Harvey had enjoyed some relay success with the Kits and admitted that the technique involved in learning the hurdles was more complex than just learning to run the curve in a relay.
“The coordination and technique you need to run the hurdles are hard to pick up,” Harvey said. “And you have to be precise every single time with your trail leg, or you won’t do well. I ran a PR yesterday (14.92) and I was hoping for another PR today. But I got a better start yesterday, and today I was all over the place out there. It’s OK — I’ll get another PR next year.”
Watson, whose primary focus has been on the triple jump, cleared a personal-best 5 feet, 4 inches on Friday to advance but was eliminated on Saturday after clearing 5-2.
“Coach Sibert just asked me one day if I wanted to do it,” Watson recalled. “It’s been kinda crazy for me the last couple of weeks, but once I got my steps right, I started jumping better.”
“Jessie coached Gabriell up, and Tameeka coach both hurdles (along with state qualifier Remy Amarteifio) up,” Gunter praised. “You could see we had some spots to fill there — but they’re the ones who did the work. You really have to teach the hurdles and neither of those girls even knew what a hurdle was when they first started.
“Our coaching staff understands potential, and they have the ability to convince the girls of that potential. We just try to place them where they can have some success.”