BY CHAD DARE email@example.com
---- — DANVILLE — Getting a new all-weather track facility at Danville High was a slow and tedious process.
A year ago, the school put the finishing touches on the Wayland-Young Athletic Complex and hosted the first-ever John Eakle Invitational sponsored by Toyota of Danville. The results were an overwhelmingly success as eight teams, twice as many as last year, will send their teams to the second annual invite being held today at the facility that is one block north of high school.
“We’ve got some really outstanding teams coming here,’’ said B.J. Luke, athletics director and girls track coach at Danville. “On the girls side, we’ve got Evanston, who was the girls champion at last week’s Eastern Relays in Louisville, Ky., and they are also one of the favorites to win the Class 3A state title. And then there is (Champaign) Centennial with some outstanding sprinters. (Chicago) Mother McAuley has Briana Driver and (Thornton Fractional) North always has a lot of speed.
“On the boys side, once again you have Centennial and TF North is loaded. New this year is Michigan City (Indiana) and they are a very good team.’’
Luke, who said that more teams are going to be involved next year, added that some of the events are going to feature multiple state-ranked runners.
“I think that is going to be a lot of speed out here,’’ he said.
One of the highlights of today’s meet will be Danville senior Johnny Leverenz.
The future Butler Bulldog is not only the defending IHSA Class 3A state champion in the 800 meters, but a week ago at the Eastern Relays in Louisville, Ky., Leverenz broke an 89-year old Danville High school record in the 1,600 with a winning time of 4 minutes, 12.48 seconds. The previous mark was held by Gene Howrey in 1925.
“Johnny is probably the most prolific runner in Danville High history and he will be showing his craft,’’ Luke said. “We have him entered in both the 800 and 1,600, his two signature events.
“We hope this town is as proud of him as we are, and that they will come out and support what we are doing.’’
It will be the final opportunity for Vermilion County residents to see the state champion on home turf.
“I love running in front of the home crowd,’’ said Leverenz, who won both events in the inaugural John Eakle Invitational.
And can he break any more school records?
“I don’t know about that. Getting that one last weekend was definitely a big accomplishment,’’ he said. “That was also a big meet with a lot of great competition. I just sat in third for the whole race and then I took it over in the final 300.’’
Not only did the spectators at the first-ever John Eakle Invitational last year get to see Leverenz, who went on a win an individual state title, but the Vikings also had Alexus Jimson-Miller, a freshman this year at Miami of Ohio, go onto win the Class 3A 100 hurdles event.
Danville was just one of two schools in IHSA Class 3A that could claim an individual champion in both the boys and girls state meets, the other school was Edwardsville.
“I hope that everyone in Danville can come out and support us,’’ Leverenz said. “Both the boys and the girls programs are really good this year.’’
And both teams were able to claim in the Big 12 Conference indoor championships this past March in Bloomington.
“Most people don’t really know that Danville track is one of the best in the state,’’ said Danville senior Ambrosia Williams, who on Friday became the fifth track athlete to sign with NCAA Division I program in the past four years. “It’s pretty exciting to be a part of this program.
“This year this is going to be really big because of all the good teams we have coming to town. I’m excited to see how we do against these really good teams we have coming into Danville. It’s a chance for us, both the boys and girls, to showcase our talents, showcase what we can accomplish.’’
A year ago, the Vikings basically dominated the inaugural event. While no team scores were tabulated, the Danville girls won 11 of 18 varsity events and the boys won 10 of 18.
“This is not only a chance to put on a show for the hometown and all that, but it’s a meet that honors a coach (John Eakle) that means a lot to our entire staff. We take that very seriously,’’ said Danville boys track coach Steve Luke, who is one of five Danville High coaches that was a part of coach Eakle’s program. “If you follow Danville athletics, and you are not here on Saturday — you are dropping the ball.’’
Today’s meet is also a fundraiser for Hummer family. Kenzie Hummer, the daughter of coach Doug Hummer and the sister of junior distance runner Caleb Hummer, is battling medulloblastoma, which is a highly malignant primary brain tumor. Meet t-shirts will be sold for $15, with the proceeds helping the family’s medical and travel costs.
“This is a really important day,’’ Leverenz said. “I really want to support Caleb and his family.’’
Second Annual John Eakle Invitational Where -- Wayland-Young Athletic Complex When -- 10 a.m. today Schools -- Champaign Centennial, Chicago Mother McAuley, Chicago Powerhouse Academy, Danville, Evanston, Michigan City (Ind.), St. Anne, Thornton Fractional North and Urbana. Field events -- Pole vault, high jump, shot put, discus, long jump and triple jump. Running events -- 3,200-meter relay, 400 relay, 3,200, 100/110 hurdles, 100, 800, 800 relay, 400, 300 hurdles, 1,600, 200 and 1,600 relay. 2013 state champion -- Danville's Johnny Leverenz (800)