The Golden Era

Tony Holler Coaching Blogs 4 Comments

Track & Field in Illinois seems better than ever.  Ja’Mari & Kahmari have become mononymous, like Plato, Napoleon, or LeBron.

Times and distances once considered elite, now fail to make the finals.

When I was a young boy in the 1960s, Jim Ryun was as famous as any American athlete.  Ryun ran 3:55.3 in the mile to set a high school record that would stand for 36 years.  I know a couple of IHSA mile champions from the 60s.  I know Coach Al Carius (North Central) and I used to live down the street from Tom Swan (Princeton).  The IHSA State Champion in the mile ran an average time of 4:20.8 in the decade of the 60s.  This year, Illinois had 42 kids run under 4:20 in the 1600.  Not bad.

The 4×2 is a measure of sprint depth in a state.  4×2 teams are missing star 400m runners and 300 hurdlers due the order of events in a track meet.  In the 90’s, the winners of the IHSA 4×2 averaged a time of 1:27.27.  This year, the top-10 4×2 teams in Illinois averaged 1:27.09.  Speed is going viral in Illinois.

My son, Alec, and I have floated the idea that Illinois track & field is entering its “Golden Era”.  Surprisingly, many have decided to play devil’s advocate.

Even though Alec Holler once had to re-take a college math course, he has become a “Rain Man” of track and field numbers.  On Father’s Day, we were hanging out poolside and talking to each other on cell phones.  We wondered if Illinois had a better year than Ohio.  Ever since Jesse Owens, Ohio has been a been the track Mecca of Midwest.  Without further discussion, I asked Alec to research the Midwest.

Why just the Midwest?  SEC-Country, Texas, and California have an unfair advantage:  weather.  Send teams from Vista Murrieta, Chaminade, and Oceanside of California to Neuqua Valley, Waubonsie Valley, and Metea Valley and see how their performances are affected.

In our area, we have limited training opportunities.  Neuqua, Waubonsie, and Metea train for ten weeks in hallways or running on frozen streets.  When teams in our area finally get outdoors, we dodge hail and lightning bolts.  Spring is the monsoon season in Illinois.  Wind is my pet peeve.  How can you coach when 30 mph winds blow away your words?  As I write this article, 46 mph wind gusts are blowing leaves off of trees and tornado warnings are in effect for Coal City to our south.

Reptiles don’t live in Alaska and Polar Bears don’t live in Florida.  Warm weather climates will always have an advantage in spring sports.

So let’s compare apples to apples.  I have the utmost respect for all track & field programs everywhere.  I understand the battles fought.  I understand swimming upstream.  I am awed by my coaching friends in Wisconsin.  How do they do it?

We all fight the entrepreneurial curse of 7-7 football and personal trainers who try to lure our athletes into their lair.  I was recently told a story of a 7-7 organization sending threats, in writing, to a school because an athlete chose track over football for the week of the state meet.  This 7-7 organization has encouraged high school athletes to transfer to schools less focused on track.  What?  Sounds like 7-7 football is adopting the modus operandi of AAU basketball.  Disgusting.

I have no respect for the quasi-coaches who lure kids away from their high school programs.  Ex-college jocks who failed to gain a meaningful college degree are making a living by encouraging specialization and pretending to have kids’ best interests at heart.  Parasites.

Lacrosse is establishing itself as an alternative to track in many areas.  It’s a tough fight for high school track programs.  In our area, lacrosse is a “Little League sport” run by moms and dads.  Parents love Little League.  Even if they don’t work in education, all dads are coaches at heart.  Sometimes people ask me what I do.  Then they respond, “I coach too.”   Right.

So, we all have it tough in the Midwest.  The weather is impossible.  Our programs go unfunded.  We fight specialization.  We herd cats.

We are all in this together.

Now that I have established that Illinois is not in a pissing contest with surrounding states, let’s compare the best athletes in the Midwest.  The objective of this article is to celebrate track & field excellence.  I will attempt to show that Illinois is in a “Golden Era”.  Our state should celebrate our excellence.  There is no debate.  The Land of Lincoln should be proud.

What if the nine schools considered “midwest” had a track meet?  Who would win?

We used times and distances (summer track excluded) from Dyestat.  We used season-best times, not state meet times only.  Since wind gauges are not used at the majority of track meets, we ignored wind.  The meet was scored like the Illinois State Meet, nine places:  10, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.



How fast will Eiker go as a senior? 10.30? 20.80? Click to enlarge.

1.  10.42  Josh Eiker, Galesburg, IL
2.  10.43  Dion Hooker, Sycamore, IL
3.  10.46  Cary Lockhart, Bloomington, IL
4.  10.49  Denzel Ward, Nodonia, OH
5.  10.50  Kahmari Montgomery, Plainfield Central, IL
6.  10.51  Andy Isabella, Mayfield, OH
7.  10.52 Alex Teague, York, IL
8.  10.52 Tyler Johnson, Stivers, OH
9.  10.52 Andre McGill, Madison, IL



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The only 3A competitor to ever win the 1-2-4 triple crown at the IL state meet, Kahmari Montgomery.

1.  20.96  Kahmari Montgomery, Plainfield Central, IL (US #5)
2.  21.02  Josh Eiker, Galesburg, IL (US #7) 
3.  21.09  Nick Gray, Pickerington North, OH
4.  21.24  Cary Lockhart, Bloomington, IL
5.  21.25  Jaron Flournoy, John Glenn, MI
6.  21.26  Scotty Miller, Barrington, IL
7.  21.27  Andy Isabella, Mayfield, OH
8.  21.29  Skylar Bowden, Saline, MI
9.  21.30  Demoria Harris, Dunbar, IL




Montgomery set the IL state record in the 400. Click to enlarge.

1.  46.24  Kahmari Montgomer, Plainfield Central, IL (US #7)
2.  46.78  Nick Gray, Pinkernton North, OH
3.  46.98  Quincy Hall,  Raytown South, MO
4.  47.09  Stoney Prowell, John Marshall, IN
5.  47.30  Myles Pringle, Northwest, OH
6.  47.45  Roosevelt Davis, East St. Louis, IL
7.  47.49  Caleb Ogden, Oak Creek, WI
8.  47.53  Cory Hertz, Lakes, IL
9.  47.64  Tyler Johnson, Stivers, OH



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1:47.55 is ridiculous for a high schooler. Michigan is loaded with 800 runners. Click to enlarge.

1.  1:47.55  Donavan Brazier, Kenowa Hills, MI (US #1)
2.  1:50.53  Drake Gauthier, Grand Blanc, MI (US #6)
3.  1:50.83 Eric Brown, Wisconsin Lutheran, WI
4.  1:51.02  Ryan Adams, Cuyahoga Valley, OH
5.  1:51.04  Brian Bell, Dunbar, OH
6.  1:51.16  Frank Hayes, Sylvania Southview, OH
7.  1:51.25  Ty Moss, Neuqua Valley, IL
8.  1:51.50  Hari Sathyamurthy, Brownsburg, IN
9.  1:51.58  Pavlo Hutsalyuk, Lane Tech, IL



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Grant Fisher went under four in front of a huge crowd at the Festival of Miles. Click to enlarge.

1.  3:57.93  Grant Fisher, Grand Blanc, MI (US #1)
2.  4:07.12  Ryan Adams, Cuyahoga Valley, OH (US #8)
3.  4:07.15  Donavan Brazier, Kenowa Hills, MI (US #9)
4.  4:08.00  Thomas Pollard, Gilbert, IA
5.  4:08.04  Logan Wetzel, Saline, MI
6.  4:08.15  Bryce Richards, Mundelein, IL
7.  4:08.17  Ben Hill, Royal Oak, MI
8.  4:08.19  Pavlo Hutsalyuk, Lane Tech, IL
9.  4:08.50  Sean Conlin, Ft. Zumwalt East, MO



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Jesse Reiser, along with IL#2 3200 runner Zach Dale will run for U of I next year. Click to enlarge.

1.  8:49.40  Jesse Reiser, McHenry, IL  (US #7)
2.  8:52.62  Zach Dale, Conant, IL 
3.  8:53.41  Grant Fisher, Grand Blanc, MI
4.  8:53.42  Ben Veatch, Carmel, IN
5.  8:56.06  Thomas Pollard, Gilbert, IA
6.  8:56.77  Ryan Robinson, Waterford Mott, MI
7.  8:58.61  John Nownes, Creighton Prep, NE
8.  8:58.99 Olin Hacker, Madison West, WI
9.  9:00.60  Kyle Mau, Hudson, OH


110 HH

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Chad Zallow had the US #1 time in the high hurdles but the wind was 3.8 … click to enlarge picture.

1.  13.19   Chad Zallow, Kennedy, OH
2.  13.80  Caleb Witt, Miami Trace, OH (US #17)
3.  13.89  Richard Floyd, Strongsville, OH
3.  13.89  Darius Ragland, Pickerington North, OH
5.  13.91  William Session, Belleville East, IL
6.  13.92  Juan Scott, Dunbar, OH
7.  13.98  Travis Anderson, Edwardsville, IL
8.  13.99  Clayton Cook, Wawansee, IN
9.  14.00  Robie Webster, Lincoln, MI


300 INT

15 - 1

Ashton Dulin is also a top football recruit. Go figure. Click to enlarge.

1.  36.32  Ashton Dulin, Reynoldsburg, OH (US #2)
2.  36.76  Caleb Samoi, Berea-Midpark, OH
3.  37.03  Chad Zallow, Kennedy, OH
4.  37.10  Lucas Ege, Burlington Central, IL
5.  37.13  Isaiah Michl, Edwardsville, IL
6.  37.18  Matt Ludwig, Lake Catholic, OH
7.  37.23  Austin Corley, Adrian, MO
8.  37.43  Deion McShane, Freeport, IL
9.  37.45  Chris Douglas, Deerfield, IL


High Jump

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Jeff Giannettino was a multi-sport star. Here he clears 7-00 with ease. Click to enlarge.

1.  7’01  Jeff Giannettino, West Burlington, IA (US #4)
2.  7’00  Curtis Richardson, Licking Heights, OH (US #5)
3.  6’11  Francis Ehigbai, Hamilton SE, IN
3.  6’11  Allen Gordon, Omaha North, NE
5.  6’10  Chisom Ifedi, Centennial, OH
5.  6’10  Kevin Porter, Bosse, IN
5.  6’10  Noah Adams, Meridian, IL
5.  6’10  Ross Logan, North Greene, IL
5.  6’10  Isiah Taylor, Parsons, KS


Long Jump


Ja’Mari Ward can contort his body in amazing ways, midair. Click to enlarge.

1.  25’06  Ja’Mari Ward, Cahokia, IL  (US #2)
2.  24’10  Davion Fisher, Sandusky, OH
3.  24’02  Jared Belardo, Leavenworth, KS
4.  23’11  B.J. Lawson, Liberty-Benson, OH
5.  23’10  Guy Oliver, Jeffersonville, IN
6.  23’09  Tiger Guillory, Hamilton SE, IN
6.  23’09  Christian Powell, Ben Davis, IN
8.  23’08  Remi Simmons, Thornton, IL
9.  23’08  Chandler Diercks, Clear Lakes, IA


Triple Jump


Ja’Mari has a chance to jump 26′ and 53′ as a senior next year. Click to enlarge.

1.   51’11  Ja’Mari Ward, Cahokia, IL  (US #1)
2.  50’02  Jacob Peister, Blue Springs, MO (US #5)
3.  49’07  Jared Belardo, Leavenworth, KS (US #9)
4.  48’11  Justin Hall, Blue Springs, MO
5.  48’09  Elijah Smith, Valley Heights, KS
6.  48’09  Chris Walker, Aurora West, IL
7.  48’05  Davion Cross, Aurora West, IL
8.  47’11  Jace Anderson, Lincoln SE, NE
9.  47’10  Luther Newburn, Hillcrest, IL


Pole Vault

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Deakin Volz from Indiana jumped 17’11.25″ INDOORS this year.  17’08 outdoors.  Amazing.

1.  17’08  Deakin Volz, Bloomington South, IN  (US #1)
2.  17’00  Christopher Nilsen, Park Hill, MO (US #7)
3.  16’07  Colton Crum, Frankfort, IN
4.  16’06  Coty Cobb, Madison, OH
5.  16’06  Jake Larocca, Palatine, IL
5.  16’06  Andy Jatis, Providence Catholic, IL
7.  16’04  Ethan Bray, Hamilton SE, IN
8.  16’04  Matt Pearce, Hoover, OH
9.  16’03  Riley Smith, Casey-Westerfield, IL
9.  16’03  Matt Ludwig, Lake Catholic, OH


Shot Put

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70’2″ … WOW

1.  70’02  Willie Morrison, Leavenworth, KS (US #2)
2.  64’00  Cole VanLanen, Bay Port, WI (US #8)
3.  63’07  Clayton Glasco, Pickerington Central, OH (US #10)
4.  63’02  Khalil Davis, Blue Springs, MO
5.  62’09  Ben Peterson, Solon, OH
6.  62’03  David Schall, Avon, IN
7.  61’10   Roberty Landers, Wayne, OH
8. 61’06  Mitchell Soviak, North Union, OH
9.  61’03  Adam Schaufelberger, Lyons, IL



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Carlos and Kahlil might be the best 1-2 punch in the history of high school track & field. Click to enlarge.

1.  214’04  Carlos Davis, Blue Springs, MO (US #1)
2.  205’08  Khalil Davis, Blue Springs, MO (US #2)
3.  203’09  Christian Smith, McDonald, OH (US #3)
4.  203’06  Trevor Detillion, Unioto, OH (US #4)
5.  195’00   David Schall, Avon, IN (US #7)
6.  194’03  AJ Epenesa, Edwardsville, IL (US #9)
7.  193’09   Willie Morrison, Leavenworth, KS (US #10)
8.  192’03  Ricky Nelson, Belleville West, IL
9.  191’10  Mike Prestigiacoma, Lake Park, IL




Ja’Mari Ward blazed a sub 9.5 split and went on to beat Chicago Phillips’ Dewayne Collins.  Click to enlarge.

1.  41.12  Cahokia, IL
2.  41.20  Ben Davis, IN
3.  41.46  Lake Central, IN
3.  41.46  Chicago Philips, IL
5.  41.59  Center Grove, IN
6.  41.61  South Bend Washington, IN
7.  41.63  Evanston, IL
8.  41.71  Munster, IN
9.  41.76  Northwest, OH



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1.  1:25.83  Cahokia, IL
2.  1:26.02  Withrow, OH
3.  1:26.61  McCluer, MO
4.  1:26.78  Plainfield East, IL 
5.  1:26.81  Evanston, IL
6.  1:26.84  Racine Park, WI
7.  1:27.02  Mason, OH
8.  1:27.04 Dunbar, IL
9.  1:27.05  Plainfield North, IL



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1.  3:15.24  East St. Louis, IL
2.  3:16.28  Mason, OH
3.  3:16.39  Pickerington North, OH
4.  3:16.49  Lake Central, IN
5.  3:16.55  Ft. Zumwalt, MO
6.  3:16.87  Neuqua Valley, IL
7.  3:17.00  Evanston, IL
8.  3:17.23  Ashwaubenon, WI
9.  3:17.25  Northrop, IN  3:17.25



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Coach Al Leslie’s kids were amazing.

1.  7:38.97  Saline, MI (US #3)
2.  7:41.43  Ames, IA (US #7)
3.  7:42.03  Sandburg, IL (US #9)
4.  7:43.08  Lyons, IL (US #10)
5.  7:43.18  Wisconsin Lutheran, WI
6.  7:43.39  Barrington, IL
7.  7:43.65  Arrowhead, WI
8.  7:44.19  Prospect, IL
9.  7:44.21  Carmel, IN


Congratulations to all the athletes and coaches represented above.  The fact that Kansas failed to score a single point in a running event is not a black eye for the Sunflower State.  It simply proves how great the midwest was in track and field this year.  My team, Plainfield North, scored only one proud point.  Placing in the top-9 in a population of 61.4 million ain’t bad.

If any mistakes were made, blame it on DyeStat.  😉

Here are the final team standings:

1.  Illinois 265
2.  Ohio  239.5
3.  Indiana 94
4.  Missouri 69
5.  Michigan 60
6.  Kansas 35
7.  Wisconsin 34
8.  Iowa 30
9.  Nebraska 11.5

Congratulations to Illinois.  Coaches from our state know how good our state has become, but many people are unaware.

Many will dismiss the excellence of Illinois, saying the population advantage makes all the difference.  Not.  Illinois, population 12.9 million, outscored MO, MI, KS, WI, IA, & NE combined, total population 29.5 million, 265 to 239.5.

The six small states listed above outnumber Ohio 29.5 million to 11.5 million, but scored the exact same number of points, 239.5.

Once again, the point is not to diminish states like Iowa and Wisconsin.  Illinois is entering “The Golden Era” of track & field.

I’ve heard the track pundits beat the drums of distance running in Illinois, and they are right.  Illinois is a fantastic distance state.  We had 42 guys go sub 4:20.  We had 21 guys sub 9:20 in the 3200.  However, Michigan is amazing too.  Grant Fisher ran 3:57.93 in the 1600.  Saline H.S. ran 7:38.97 in the 4×8.  WOW and WOW.



In the mythological 9-team meet, Illinois scored more sprint points (100-200-400-4×1-4×2-4×4) than the other eight states combined .  Illinois scored 139 points in the six sprint events.  Ohio managed 68.  The other seven states scored a combined 69.

The hurdles were dominated by Ohio (74 of the the potential 102 points).  However, Illinois has youth and our best days are coming.

William Session of Belleville East will be a monster next year.  When you get a chance, check out this YouTube video of William’s father, Rodney Session, winning four gold medals in 1996.   Go to the 1:12 mark in the YouTube to see the greatest finish ever in a hurdle race.  William Session was ranked US #8 in the 110 HH last year with a best time of 13.91.  I believe William Sessions will break the IHSA 110 HH record of 13.79 (A.J. Harris).  He will also improve on his 300 time of 38.17.  Sophomore sensation Travis Anderson of Edwardsville ran 13.98 at the Bloomington Sectional and placed 2nd in the state.  Sophomore.  Lucas Ege of Burlington Central returns to improve on his state best, 37.10 in the 300 Intermediates.  The #1 freshman 300-hurdler in the nation is Deion McShane of Freeport, (37.43).  Is Jon Schweighardt’s record of 36.77 in jeopardy?  Will Illinois hurdlers gain national attention next year?


Here Korrion Session of Cahokia has the lead over his little brother William Session (red hair) of Belleville East at the Belleville West Invite in early April 2015. Click to enlarge.

Ja’Mari returns, ’nuff said.  Everyone knows the future Olympian from Cahokia, but do they know about Ja’Mari’s 46.21 FAT split in the 4×4?  Yes, Endurance Race Timing by Chris Arnold gives FAT splits.  And, don’t forget, Cahokia’s 4×1 and 4×2 included Ja’Mari (41.12 & 1:25.83).

The state meet may need a bigger venue next year.  We could triple the attendance just to see the sprint showdown in 3A.  Galesburg is now 3A.  Josh Eiker will race Cary Lockhart of Bloomington.

  • 100 meters … 10.42 vs 10.46
  • 200 meters … 21.05 vs 21.24

Lockhart will only be a junior.  Never has there been such a showdown in our state.  I predict both Eiker and Lockhart will break the 100 and 200 meter record next year.

Why aren’t people talking about this?  The entire country will be on the edge of their seats.  This is not normal.  We are in “The Golden Era” of Illinois Track & Field.

How far will AJ Epenesa of Edwardsville throw next year?  I predict 60′ and 210′.  Epenesa has less than five months of throwing under his belt.  I repeat.  Epenesa has thrown for only five months.  Superstar football and basketball players only have around ten weeks per year to devote to track.  Epenesa started his track career as a freshman.  As a sophomore, AJ threw 53’9 and 194’3 (US #1 Soph).


AJ Epenesa. Click to enlarge.

Illinois has a long, storied history in the distance events.  Donald Sage, Stephen Pifer, Craig Virgin, Jim Spivey, Ken Popejoy, Evan Jager, and Chris Derrick are household names among Illinois track enthusiasts.  Treat yourself and watch the final lap of Donald Sage running his 8:42 3200 back in 2000, go to the 47:00 mark in this YouTube.  Next year, four guys have a chance to run sub-4 in the 1600.  Sean Torpy (4:09.85) of Sandburg, Heath Warren (4:09.89) of Springfield, Jon Davis (4:09.93) of Oakwood, and Keagan Smith (4:10.70) of Huntley all return.  Kevin Salvano of Buffalo Grove, who ran 9:04.79 in the 3200 as a junior, will have a huge senior year.  Next year Sandburg H.S. returns all four relay members from a team who ran 7:42.03 last spring.  Illinois had 29 4×8 teams ranked in the US top-100.


Sandburg’s 4×8 … L to R, Tom Brennan (Jr), Brandon Lucas (Jr), Sean Torpy (Jr), Chris Torpy (Jr), Martin Skucas (So), Dylan Jacobs (Fr). Skucas & Jacobs ran in the state prelims. Torpy & Torpy ran in the finals. All six return. All six were on the awards stand. Click to enlarge.

I can’t get Sandburg out of my head.  Sandburg distance coach and fellow Knox College grad, John O’Malley, had an incredible group this year.

  • 10 runners under 4:30 in the 1600
  • 11 runners under 10:00 in the 3200

Has this ever happened?

Last year, we saw FIVE state records fall.  Kahmari broke one.  Ja’Mari broke two and ran on two record-breaking relay teams.  Ja’Mari returns. 

I’m going big on this one.  13 state records will fall on May 27-28, 2016 … I repeat, 13 records will fall next year.

  • 100 – 10.37  Keith Thomas, Chicago Kenwood, 1986
  • 200 – 20.89  Anthony Moorman, Lake Park, 1997
  • 800 – 1:49.71  Jason Van Swol, Lincoln-Way, 1998
  • 1600 – 4:05.17  Jeff Thode, Conant, 2009
  • 110 HH – 13.79  A.J. Harris, Wheaton North, 2002
  • 300 INT – 36.77  Jon Schweighardt, Wheaton South, 1999
  • 4×1 – 41.12  Cahokia, 2015
  • 4×2 – 1:25.83  Cahokia, 2015
  • 4×4 – 3:13.66  East St. Louis 2007
  • 4×8 – 7:40.02  Jacobs 2006
  • LJ – 25’00.25  Ja’Mari Ward, Cahokia, 2015
  • TJ – 50’6  Ja’Mari Ward, Cahokia, 2015
  • Discus – 205’8  Dan Block, Lake Park 2009

Make sure you stick around for the final race.  East St. Louis ran 3:15.24 in May to win the 4×4.  All four runners return.  However, the winner is not predetermined because 12 teams in Illinois broke 3:20 in 2015.  A rising tide lifts all boats.

Yes, Illinois is entering “The Golden Era”.



Comments 4

  1. Whatever happened to Tom Swan? He went to Michigan, right? Got hurt? Thought I heard hes living in DeKalb….retired from phone company? Can you confirm and elaborate? Thanks!

    1. Post

      Yes, Tom Swan went to Michigan but he did not stay there. Last I heard, Tom was living in the Princeton area. Tom’s father, Roger Swan, was the long-time principal at Princeton High School. Tom’s brother, Tim Swan, was my age and was a neighborhood friend of mine. Tom Swan still holds the mile record at Princeton, 4:11

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