In one corner of the Cahokia High School gymnasium is a set of seven stairs which lead to the basement and the Comanches' track and field office.
For the past decade, that small passageway has been a place where dreams have been born and championships have been launched.
It is a place where Cahokia boys track coach Leroy Millsap and his staff have built a dynasty.
Since taking over the coaching reigns in 2004, Millsap has led the Comanches to five state championships, including the last three Class 2A crowns. Cahokia has been in the top three at the state finals every year except 2008, when it placed fourth in the Class 2A Meet.
But for all the trophies, medals and all-state honors awarded, Millsap's proudest achievements are surprising.
"The thing I'm proudest of is that every senior who has come through our program, stayed with it and graduated has gone on to college at some level," Millsap said. "Some of them didn't stay and have come back, but they had the opportunity to further their education.
"Also we've been able to break away from the shadow of East Louis. When I started, I think the kids were a little intimidated by East St. Louis track and what it had accomplished. We're not intimidated any longer.''
Now one of the premier high school programs in the nation, Cahokia's quest for a fourth straight Class 2A state championship and its sixth title since 2006 has begun with some strong efforts during the indoor season.
Even with sensational sophomore Jamari Ward hobbled for the past two weeks with a minor injury, the Comanches have been impressive.
Cahokia boasts the state's top time in the 800- and 1,600-meter relays and the third-best effort in the 3,200 relay.
Last week, the Comanches won the Eastern Illinois University Invitational at Charleston by a whopping 37 points over Class 3A powers Belleville West, Edwardsville and Pekin.
"Athletically, we're probably ahead of where we were last year at this time. Conditioning-wise because of the weather and basketball, we may be a little behind,'' Millsap said. "We just need some good weather for a few days and we'll be fine.''
As will Ward, who along with seniors Marlin Brady, Gary Hickman and the Monigan brothers -- Jalon and Mike --will lead the Comanches.
Regarded as one of the nation's best in the long jump and triple jump, Ward suffered an injury to his right quad muscle two weeks ago during an invitation only meet in New York.
Ward had already been over 50 feet in the triple jump and is a consistent 24-feet athlete in the long jump.
"Jamari is fine. We're just waiting for him to be released by his doctor to be able to compete. He's been going through light workouts for about a week,'' Millsap said. "I think he could go 25 feet in the long jump and over 52 in the triple jump this year.''
Brady, a two-time state champion in the 400, also is one of the best around and will be a part of the Comanches 1,600 and 3,200 relays.
"Marlin looks good and he's really working hard,'' Millsap said. "I can't ever remember anybody going to back-to-back winning the 400 meters, and so for him to be able to win three straight would put him in a very select group.''
The Monigan brothers will be a key part of three relays. Jalon Monigan also has jumped over 46 feet in the triple jump.
Another key for Cahokia will be Hickman.
Second in the 110 high hurdles and fifth in the 300 intermediate hurdles a year ago, the athletic 6-foot-4 Comanche should be a title contender in both this season.
Ward and Jalon Monigan will lead the way in the long and triple jump while Tony McRoberts, Seande Vinson and Quontez Miller will be in the high jump.
Miller and Korrian Session also will triple jump.
Juniors Daniall Akins and Jakari Howard are Cahokia's best in the shot put and discus, along with sophomore McKinley Bell.
Session is a potential state medal winner in the 110 and 300 hurdles.
Millsap has a bunch of athletes looking to become the mainstays in the 100 and 200, along with the 400 and 800 relays.
Among the best are juniors Keveion Akins, Jerrick Crosby-Fischer and Ja'Mari Hare, along with heralded sophomores Chris McGee and Tyran Lyons.
"I like to use a younger kid in each of the relays so that with each year we've got somebody coming back who has been at the state meet and had some success,'' Millsap said. "Very rarely will we be using our four best kids in a relay.''
McGee, Lyons, Nate Hardaway and Chris Raymond are vying in the 400 and 800, as is gifted freshman Chris Stanley.
With East St. Louis moving back into Class 3A, Millsap thinks the Comanches chief competition at state in late May will come from (Maple Park) Kaneland.
But Millsap likes this group of athletes.
"This team is a lot like the one last year in that these kids are students of track and field," Millsap said. "They know the sport very well.
"Our seniors are good leaders and they're going to try and finish with a fourth straight state title. Actually it will be five for that class, because it won the junior high state when they were in the eighth grade. That would be special.''