Referred to as the “ideal” student-athlete by East St. Louis boys track and field coach Barry Malloyd, Flyers senior Bryuan Manuel said he cried when notified that the team would not be allowed to participate in the IHSA Class 3A sectional or state track meet.
Fearing the violence could carry over to other events, District 189 Superintendent Arthur Carver decided to suspend the remainder of the Flyers track season after a fight broke out among spectators during the Southwestern Conference Meet in May. It ended the hopes of a Flyers state championship, and may have damaged the chances of individual athletes of earning scholarships, supporters have said.
But a group of citizens, including community and religious leaders, raised scholarship money to help give those dreams a second chance.
During the “We Believe in You” Community Scholarship Awards Ceremony at Power of Change Christian Church in Cahokia on Thursday, all nine Flyers athletes received $500 Wal-Mart gift cards and $1,500 scholarships to help with their academic costs.
Manuel will use his scholarship at Vincennes University in Indiana.
“When we were told that our season was over and that we could not compete at sectional or state, it destroyed me mentally,’’ Manuel said. “I felt like people were taking everything away from me. But tonight, it was a wonderful ceremony. It touches my heart because I didn’t know I had this many people who love and care about what happens to me. What happens to us.’’
On Thursday at Power of Change Christian Church, a large group of family members, East St. Louis High School coaches and teachers and citizens showed their support by attending the event.
Also headed to Vincennes University are Marquesse McCray, Raymond Mix and Deonte Anderson. Terrence Powell and Damien Smith are both headed to Kentucky State University, Marquan Walker is going to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and James Young is headed to Southwestern Illinois College.
The final athlete awarded scholarship funds is Edgar Jones who will take part in an apprentice program in Phoenix, Ariz.
The funds were raised by a committee of nine that was spearheaded by Belleville attorney Joslyn Sandifer and Bishop Henry Phillips.
Sandifer, a former track athlete at East St. Louis who went on to graduate from Jackson State University, said the committee began raising money for the scholarship in early June.
“The idea was actually the brainchild of several people. Bishop Phillips wanted to raise money and Teemeka Purchases also became involved. At the end day we just all came together in support of these kids,’’ Sandifer said. “We had to file the proper forms to make sure it was all legal and get the churches involved because people feel more comfortable donating money that way.
“To me this type of response we got shows that the community of East St. Louis is not dead. That it is thriving and that there is a real interest in assuring the future of our young people. People were giving $2, $5, $15, whatever they could. It was very rewarding because it shows that people really care.”
Sandifer said that funds were raised through churches and by contacting local business owners. Bishop Phillips said that raising the funds and the ceremony Thursday were very successful.
“Tonight was wonderful because it showed the young men that whatever you are faced with in life that you can always overcome it,’’ Bishop Phillips said. “The community rallied around these young people. They didn’t feel sorry for them, because life happens.
“But to see that all nine of these young men are going to college shows what you can do when you fight the odds.’’