Jonathan Wilburn definitely saved his best for last here Saturday at the Class 3A Illinois High School Association state track and field meet at Eastern Illinois University.
Wilburn soared 47 feet, 2.75 inches on the final effort of his high school career and snatched the state triple jump state championship, beating runnerup Josh Boulanger of Brother Rice by 5 inches.
The Evanston senior became the first athlete in the history of the storied program to earn a state title in the triple jump and captured the first individual state crown for a Wildkit since Tremaine Gordon took top honors in the 200-meter dash in 2010.
Wilburn trailed Boulanger by just 2 inches entering the final round of jumps Saturday. The senior standout knew it was all or nothing for his last jump, and secured the gold medal by keeping his arms raised high on the last phase of the jump.
“I always say this is a superstar meet where the superstars are the ones who get the job done, and Jonathan Wilburn is a superstar,” said Evanston head coach Don Michelin. “He put it all together today. He got his arms up on that last jump, like Coach Harris (assistant Vernard) told him to, and that helped carry him to a state championship.”
“He’s a class act and he’s always determined out there, but on that last jump, I saw some extra determination from Jonathan,” added Harris. “He knew this was his last chance.
“I was on him so hard to jump farther yesterday (in the preliminary qualifying), because I knew how close he was, that it actually made me feel bad that I did it. I knew no one else (in the field of finalists) would duplicate what they did on Friday, because it takes a special kid in that event to go beyond what they did the day before.”
“I knew I had to bust it out on that last jump if I wanted to win it,” said Wilburn, a three-year qualifier for the state meet who finished 8th last year. “I went 44-10 on my first jump today and that rattled me a little bit. But I got to 46 feet on my second jump and I thought you’re OK, you’re up there now. I had confidence on that last jump. I knew I’d worked hard for this for 4 years, and it really feels great to win a state championship.”
Wilburn’s performance earned 10 points for ETHS, pulling the Kits into a tie for 30th place in the final Class 3A team standings. Wilburn was the lone ETHS competitor to advance out of the prelims.
Wilburn climbed to the top as an individual after also making his mark as the ultimate “team guy” as a captain for the squad. His participation in relay events, in an era where many jumpers focus entirely on either the long jump or triple jump, was a sacrifice on his part even though the soft-spoken senior never saw it that way.
Running in all of those races — he participated on two relays during Friday’s prelims — didn’t prevent his legs from getting beaten up, but he didn’t care.
“I think all of that running made me stronger and I know that it gave me more confidence,” Wilburn said. “It might have made getting marks (in the jumps) a little harder, but stepping out on the track and busting out a fast time is very fun for me.
“This is really a good way for me to end it after 4 years of hard work, and being the first one to win State really means a lot to me. I came in as a freshman wanting to be a sprinter and I thought I was the fastest guy around. I tried the long jump and did pretty good in that, and I remember when I popped a 38 in my first meet in the triple jump and apparently that was something pretty good. I asked my friend Matt (teammate Matt Caines) if that was a good one, and he said yes.
“I struggled a lot this year just to get back to where I thought I should’ve been (after jumping 46 feet indoors) and I was able to pull it together here at the end. I finally got back to 46 after a very big loss in the conference meet (where he was the 3-time defending Central Suburban League South division champ but settled for 3rd place) and that helped turn things around for me. As a senior I had all the motivation today, and I knew that a lot of the other guys wouldn’t improve today.”
Only the special ones — like Wilburn — did that.