CALUMET CITY | Marvel Thompson didn’t like track. Not in seventh grade, not in eighth grade. He didn’t like his coach, didn’t like anything about what can be a lonely sport.
In his freshman year at T.F. North, things began to change.
“I started to like it because I started making friends, and stayed away from being on the street,” Thompson said.
What kept him in it? His mom.
“She made me keep running track,” Thompson said.
And a funny thing happened. Not only did Thompson become very good at it, but he came to like the coach he didn’t like in grade school summer track. That would be Moses Hulbert, now in his eighth season as head coach of the Meteors.
““He’s a very good coach,” Thompson said. “If you mess up, right away, he’ll holler, get mad at you. He’ll tell you to get up and stop crying. My freshman year, I liked him.”
The feeling is mutual. In Thompson, Hulbert has one of the area’s best at 200 and 400 meters, and an accomplished relay man. The T.F. North senior will run those two individual distances plus a pair of relays in today’s Class 3A track sectional at Homewood-Flossmoor, where state championship berths will be on offer.
Thompson excels when he’s against top competition. The H-F sectional is judged to be one of the top two sectionals in the state, with downstate Edwardsville’s the other. There’s a good chance more than a third of the Class 3A state champions will come from those two spots.
Thompson would love to be among them. First, though, there’s the small matter of qualifying in his two specialties. Thompson has hit the automatic qualifying times (22.24 seconds in the 200 and 49.94 seconds in the 400) in the past. But he has to do so today.
“I expect to run 48 in the 400, and I’m trying to accomplish running a 21 in the 200, “ Thompson said. “I run according to the competition.
That’s why I believe I can run 48-something. When I run Thursday, I know there will be some competition out there. When I run with them, I know I’ll make it downstate.”
Thompson made it to the championship weekend last year, but only in relays, much as his sister Javell did four years ago. Doing so individually will fill an empty line in his resume.
“It’s a good feeling making it down there,” he said. “On my own, I don’t have the help of others, so I know it’s my own accomplishment.”
Thompson will have many Meteors as company at H-F, as he joins a group of athletes who could advance to the 3A championship next week in Charleston. The other notables who have already posted elite times or distances are all juniors.
There are hurdlers Adonis Barnes and Nikita Smith, triple jumper Antoine Lane and high jumper Miles Barbee, who has cleared 6-foot-6.
For Barnes, the biggest hurdle this season has been dealing with persistent migraine headaches. He thinks the worst is behind him. All he wants to do now is run.
“I don’t like my coaches to tell me where I’m seeded,” Barnes said.
“I just like to run. When I do know it throws me off and I run bad. So they don’t tell me. I go in with an open mind. I don’t know what to expect.”
Hulbert’s had a state-winning relay in the recent past, but wants more athletes to get their ticket to Charleston punched at H-F. But he’s not ready to say this is his best Meteors team.
“We’ll find out,” said Hulbert. “In 2010, when we were in 2A, we got the 4x2 (800-meter relay) record, had two hurdlers, a couple of sprinters and a high jumper and a triple jumper, and we placed sixth at the state meet.”
T.F. North isn’t any bigger than it was three years ago, but the IHSA’s deck reshuffled the Meteors into 3A, against much larger schools.
Said Hulbert, “I tell the kids, when we go to sectionals and run against larger schools like Thornwood, Bloom and Bloom Trail, two schools together, Thornton is a huge school, and H-F, the Lincoln-Ways are huge, when we go there and get kids downstate, that means a lot to me.
“When you come out of that sectional, there’s a pretty good chance you can make it to the finals when you get to the state meet.”