BELLEVILLE — Writing has always been a passion for Belleville West senior Jasmine Berry.
The ability to run and jump are two of her gifts. With tireless hard work and dedication to the sport of track and field during the past several years, Berry officially turned those gifts into a college scholarship Monday.
A five-time Class 3A state-medal winner and one of the best in the state in both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles, Berry signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Illinois.
With her parents, Ricky and Marion Berry, along with other family members, and West coaching staff and administration on hand during a brief ceremony, Berry became a future member of the Fighting Illini women's track and field program.
"I'm happy that it (the recruiting process) is over and I know where I'm going to college,'' Berry said. "It was a tough decision for me, because actually I fell in love with all the schools I visited. I just had to step back and look at the big picture of everything.
"When I got there, I met the coaches and I met the team and saw the campus. Illinois felt like home. I didn't want to leave the campus.''
Now she won't have to leave.
A member of the Maroons' Class 3A state champion 1,600 relay in 2012, Berry has placed fifth and third, respectively, in the 100 hurdles the past two years and was seventh in the 300 hurdles in 2013.
She also on the 1,600 relay which placed second last year.
Berry considered many schools, but made official visits to Missouri, Temple and SIU-Carbondale.
Of the three, Temple University, in Philadelphia, may have been her second choice.
"I really liked Temple. But I would only get to come home probably twice a year,'' Berry said. "My family means a lot to me. Champaign is only three hours. It's away, but not too far away.''
Berry is joining an Illinois program where she will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact.
Coached by Ron Garner, Illinois placed ninth in the Big Ten Indoor Championships this year.
West coach Paul James believes Berry will excel at the college level.
"Jasmine is the kind of athlete who is never satisfied. She is always pushing herself to get better and now she'll have four more years to get better,'' James said. "She'll run some of the shorter hurdles races and I can see her on the 4x400 meter relay. But I think she'll be a dynamite 400-meter hurdle runner at the college level.
"This is a coach's dream to see one of his athletes have the chance to move on to the next level. This is a great day for Jasmine and her family.''
Berry said she will also have the chance to continue running in the 100 hurdles and Garner has told her that he wants her on his 1,600 relay.
He also hopes Berry will emerge as one of the leaders of his team.
"Illinois has a very good track program," Berry said. "Coach (Ron) Garner is trying to build it up and he's told me that he wants me to come in and be one of the role models.
"I'm open to almost any event. I trust coach (Garner) that he'll work with me and help get me to where I want to be. My goal is to be an All-American and to help my team win the Big Ten Championship and all of those other big titles."
Berry will major in journalism at Illinois.
"Another thing that also sold me was that Illinois has a very good journalism program. They've got a great school newspaper and I also found out that they've got a fashion magazine that I would really like to be a part of,'' Berry said. "But right now, I'm looking forward to working hard and enjoying the last few weeks of my high school career.
"My goal is to win state in all of my events.''