CHARLESTON — The Rantoul Eagle track team’s performance on Saturday was much like the 2018-19 school year for the Eagles.
Not everything was sunshine and rainbows to steal a phrase from Rocky Balboa, but the highs were definitely something to celebrate.
Jerry Harper, an Eagle junior, not only added to his medal count, but the junior is adding to his legend as well. Harper left Eastern Illinois University with two more medals, this time with two third place finishes. One was an individual medal and one a relay medal. Not to mention, the soon-to-be senior now holds two outdoor school records.
After helping the 1,600-meter relay team set the school record on Friday, the Eagle sprinter/middle distance runner achieved something he has long desired: the Eagle school record in the 400-meter dash. In dashing to the finish line in 48.51 seconds, the Eagle sprinter/middle distance runner broke the existing school record of Ray Estes, who set the mark in 1974. Not only did Estes star for Rantoul, he would later run for University of Illinois.
“I was a little disappointed, because I a set of goals I was concentrating on and I did not achieve all of them,” said Harper. “I eventually got over it and concentrated on the bigger picture.”
Estes former record was :48.60. He and Harper are the only two Eagles to ever break :49.0 in the race. Not a single one of the placers in the 400-meter dash is a senior. The top three were juniors as Willie Johnson and Marcus Lampley, a pair of East St. Louis athletes, were the top two finishers. Johnson won in :47.65, while Lampley ran a time of :48.17.
But, Harper’s anger did not fade before the 1,600-meter relay. His anger spurred him on in the anchor leg of the 1,600-meter relay as he dashed from fifth to third place, insuring that not only he, but three other Eagles earned third place medals as well.
Harper teamed with two seniors, namely, Elijah Hall and Kayon Cunningham, as well as Robert Buford, a freshman to dash to the finish line in 3 minutes, 21.95 seconds. It was only 14/100ths from their school record of 3:21.81 set one day earlier.
“I knew the relay that we had this year was stronger than the one we had a year ago,” said Hall. “Given that, we wanted to place higher than we did last year. I was first brought up as a junior and I was happy to run wherever I was needed. At the time I was added, I felt confident that I could do it.”
The Eagles were topped only by powerhouses East St. Louis and Eureka. Both the Flyers and the Hornets dashed to the finish line in under 3:20, with East St. Louis winning in 3:18.13 and Eureka finishing second in 3:18.52.
“It felt great to set the school record,” said Cunningham. “We were running so hard, we did not even realize we broke the school record at first. The time on Friday was one of two factors that motivated us for Saturday. The other was Donnell (Robertson). I thought about Donnell so much during state, because I remember all of us at state in 2018 and having the times of our lives.”
The former school record was held by Estes, who anchored in 1973, Norris Mosley, Stu Engstrom and Steve DuPriest. In 1973, the Eagle foursome dashed to the finish line in 3:22.4.
The 400-meter relay team comprised of Cunningham, Dillion Harper, Treven Lewis and Buford finished in :43.44, which was good for seventh. East St. Louis won the relay in :41.81.
“My leg hurts a bit, but it feels great to be a two-time all-state runner,” said Buford. “I hope to not only be back next year, but I want to be here in more events and earn all-state status in the 400, 200, long jump and a relay.”
The 800-meter relay team advanced to the finals, but were disqualified when Tayon Swift jumped at the starting line. In the prelims of the 800-meter relay, the foursome of Swift, Dillion Harper, Cunningham and Lewis ran a time of 1:29.73. They had the fourth best time of the prelims.
“Two of the guys that were on the 800-meter relay were also on the 1,600-meter relay,” said Mitch Wilson, the Eagles head coach. “Those guys really got it together and responded well after disqualification. Tayon has a fine career ahead of him and he is the future of this track team. He is one of the big reasons we made it in that relay. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of Donnell. That goes for our team members as well. He might not be with us physically, but he sure is in spirit. Those red head bands say it all. I think today we did him proud, but I, like many, wish he was still here.”