There was a huge turnout of residents Sunday for the village’s parade organized to celebrate the state champion boys and girls track teams.
Their school colors are blue and white, and everywhere you looked as far as the eye could see there was blue and white. The team name Comanches was emblazoned on some shirts. Others had the words Cahokia Boys Track Team or Cahokia Girls Track Team.
Some boys wore blue king crowns and some young ladies sported queen crowns. Excitement was everywhere as organizers lined up the vehicles. People were either laughing and talking with friends and family or track team members were huddling together. Newly elected Cahokia Mayor Curtis McCall was milling around in the crowd shaking hands with the victorious athletes and congratulating them,. He talked with parents and crowd on-lookers and thanked them for coming to the parade to show the young people that they support and celebrate them for their huge accomplishments.
“It’s a special day in the village of Cahokia. In fact, it is a great day. The kids who live here are a part of the community. To see all of these families and residents out here together showing their love and support to the young students makes me feel good. When you have things for the young people to do and you keep them focused, they are not out here getting into trouble,” McCall said, releasing a wide smile.
“I am very proud of Cahokia’s boys and girls track teams. They represented Cahokia on a big stage. They know their dedication and determination paid off,” McCall said.
Community pride was on display. From the beginning of the parade route, which was at Cahokia High School to the end of Camp Jackson Road, and all along Moussette Lane, residents and their children came out of their doors waving their hands and shouting congratulations to the boys and girls on the track teams. Some blew vehicle horns and held up congratulatory signs. Police sirens and flashing lights led the way and cordoned off streets as the parade wound its way through town. The people, young and old sat in lawn chairs or stood along the parade route. Many area businesses had signs out that congratulated the teams on being state champions.
McCall said the atmosphere in Cahokia was “awesome.” He said the kind of happiness and togetherness that he saw along the parade route and at the high school with people coming together as one “is what I am working to bring back — Pride.”
“I want all of us to come together because we are one. It’s really an exciting time in Cahokia. And, we can’t say enough about what our boys and girls track teams did for all of us,” he said.
One of the girls on the track team, Mariya Hudson, 17, scored 37 of the 61 points that won the state championship for the girls said “I am happy to be a part of the track team that won back to back state championships.” She said what led the team to victory is “having the faith that we could do it, There is no doubt in our team. We don’t give up no matter how hard we think it might be. And, yes it was hard.”
She said she was “glad to see everybody here supporting us and showing how happy they are about what we did,” Hudson said.
Her mother, Marina Gayden, said she continually tells her daughter “to keep her goals in front of her to strive for her dreams.”
Hudson said she wants to be better than Olympian Dawn Harper, who hails from East St. Louis.
Raynesha Lewis, 17, said this year was especially hard for her because of a foot injury she suffered. She started with the team late and had to work her butt off and deal with the injury. She credits her athletic trainer with helping to get her foot strong.
“I scratched my first two jumps and only had one left. I was in seventh place. It was all or nothing. I really had my mind focused. I jumped and saw it was right by the state line. I knew it was pretty far,” she said. Afterward, she said the first thing that happened inside of her was “a moment of relief. It took everything inside of me to bring us the state championship. I didn’t want to let my team down,” Lewis said.
An elated McCall said the children deserve the support of everybody. “It doesn’t matter whether you have a child in Cahokia School District 187 or not. These are all of our babies. We have to support them if we want them to succeed,” McCall said.
He said a great amount of appreciation goes to the Cahokia coaching staff Roscoe McDowell, the girls coach, and LeRoy Millsap, the boys coach.
Since Millsap has been the boys coach, the school has won five back to back state championships. they won in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and now 2015. Before that, they won in 2006 and 2007. Cahokia is the first in the state to have a boys and girls team win back to back state championships. Cahokia is the first team to win five straight back to back boys state championships and the first boys team to score 100 points at a state championship meet. Both, the boys and girls proudly displayed their track medals, which they wore around their necks.
Millsap was very modest. When he was told that just about everyone there praised the way he works with the boys, he gave all of the credit to his team.
“I am elated. I am happy for the kids who put in the hard work. They gave up their holidays and days when school was not in session and they came here to the school and practice,” Millsap said.
The boys he was referring to are between 15 years old 18 years old. “That’s a time when kids get into trouble when there’s nothing for them to do,” he said. Millsap said a lot of the children’s parents couldn’t afford to go to college. He said he told each of them that “God has given them talent to perform academically and athletically to make their lives different and better.”
A majority of the young men on the track team have GPA’s of 3.5 or better.
Jamari Ward, has a 3.8 GPA and he scored 26 on the ACT test. Marquis Murray has a 3.65 GPA, and Kevion Akins has a 3.65 GPA and he scored 26 on the ACT test, Millsap said.
Murray is a sprinter and hurdler and long jumper. Akins is a senior at Cahokia High School. He is a sprinter and plans to attend the University of Illinois.
When asked what he was thinking about as he looked at the crowd, he said, “We are champions.”
And champions means “We are the best,” he said smiling. “Everybody here is proud because we broke a lot of records. We knew how important it was for this team to win,” he said.
Murray said to get to the joy and glory and the big parade a lot of practice had to be put in. “We had to show up on time and stay late, push each other and all of us had to remember to never give up,” he sid.
Ward is the number one college recruit in the nation. He is a long and triple jumper. He out-jumps others in this category by a over a foot, Millsap said.
He is expected to try out for the Olympics.
Smiling as he talked to a News-Democrat reporter, Ward said with him it’s all about team effort. “We are a team. There is no I in team. It’s we and us. We all have each others backs. We fight for each other. We all know we can accomplish big things now. We broke all of the records we said we were going to break. I think we can do it every year.”
What is the mix that is needed to accomplish a monumental feat? Ward said the formula is “a lot of hard work, dedication, sacrificing a lot of things you want to do.”
Asked whether time with girlfriends has to be limited, Ward said “yes. You can’t really be too focused on girls. You have to concentrate on your bigger goal, which is down the road – having a successful life. Ward said his grounding and determination comes from his family and his coach,.
He kept looking around the huge crowd that gathered to celebrate him and his team and he said, “This is great!”
Akins said he never wants to become a statistic. “I want to keep setting goals and staying focused on them. To be successful, you have to find positive leadership. There are positive leaders out here if you look for them. You can’t be quiet. If you need help, you have to ask for it,” he said.
Akins said he has come through a number of adversities, including being robbed, having no place to live and being hungry. “But, I made sure I came to school everyday,” he piped up. “Because if you keep doing right, everything will come together. You can’t give up.”
Akins said it’s easy to stay on the track team because everyone is like family. “Everybody cares about each other like family. That includes the coach,” he said.
“There is no quit in my team. Everybody practices so hard that when they’re finished all they can do is go to bed. They have no time to get into trouble or get with the wrong people. I am constantly telling them to do the right thing even when nobody is looking. And, they listen,” Millsap said.
The boys said Millsap treats all of them like they are his sons. They said there is no difference in the way he treats them.
As they sat on the back of a black truck with a sign that said Cahokia Boys Track Team, you could see the look of champions in their faces.
Korrion Session, 18, who is a hurdler, said “The glory is great. It’s wonderful. I feel like anything is possible when you work hard and stay focused. Sometimes the road is tough, but if you keep a positive mind anything is within your reach.”
A former Cahokia basketball coach for 33 years, Ken McBride stood on Range Lane at the high school looking at the parade get started. “This is good for Cahokia and good for the kids. They are fine young men. They’re representing Cahokia well. They’re classy. Millsap has done a great job. You don’t get to be national coach of the year and not be good.”