EAST ST. LOUIS – An East St. Louis high school star athlete had his shot at a state championship denied in the spring when the track season was canceled.
The superintendent called off the season after a brawl broke out at a meet.
But now Fox 2's Dan Gray reports that track star is now a national champion.
Willie Johnson captured the 15-16-year-old 400-meter title earlier this month at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Iowa. "It was a great feeling and I was excited. My coach told me all summer I could win nationals but I didn't believe it until I got there," Johnson said.
The 16-year-old junior runs for the East St. Louis High School track during the school year and the summer track team. Coach Barry Malloyd said, "He was kind of disappointed from what happened to his regular track season and so he took that energy and used it in a positive way to train hard to work hard and I’m really happy for him."
The triumph followed tragedy after school administrators pulled the plug on the regular track season after a brawl that involved spectators and athletes at a spring track meet in East St. Louis. "It was very emotional, I remember it like yesterday May 10th. I broke down crying, they told us the season was canceled I couldn't take it."
Families, students, and the East St. Louis community rallied around the team to make sure the Flyers have a successful and safe season this year. Johnson said, "The team revolves around me. I'm not bragging or anything it just revolves around me. So, most of my players they look up to me, I look up to them and we're family. So, I'm going to do everything I can to keep them together and keep us one."
Dan asked: "And that means staying away from any trouble?
Johnson answered: "Yes, we'll avoid all trouble. No problems this year. This year we'll have a great season."
Coach Malloyd said, "Our district has instituted some policies and things in place to prevent such things like what happened last year from happening this year, and then I think the fans, the family, the coaches just this community has rallied around these young men."
Coach Malloyd says the motto for his track team this season is "We shall never forget, but we have unfinished business." Both he and Willie Johnson predict the East St. Louis Flyers track team will bring home an Illinois State Championship this year.