Thornridge’s best finish at a state track championship is third place, achieved in 1980.
This year might see that equaled, and perhaps improved on.
The Falcons have a splendid mixture of talent in sprints, relays and field events. Enough, perhaps, that even last spring’s graduation of sprinter Gary Ford may not hurt them much.
With a shrinking enrollment, Thornridge has been moved to Class 2A, but that’s not a respite from competition.
The south suburbs include several of the top 2A teams in Illinois, including Hillcrest and Crete-Monee.
For 26 years, Thornridge track meant the involvement of T.J. Shirley.
The longtime head coach died last May at age 53.
The Falcons ran the rest of the 2012 season in his honor.
The Blue Smoke Invitational, which Shirley nurtured into one of the area’s premier track meets, now has his name appended to it, but memories of Shirley are more than tangible to those who ran for him.
“We’ve kept Coach Shirley’s ideas in mind,” senior Yemi Ogunbameru said. “He told us, ‘Don’t let an obstacle get in the way of your ideas.’
“He wanted everybody to go downstate, not just a few of us.”
The Falcons may send more than a few this year, including Ogunbameru, a sprinter who had run hurdles for a time in grade school, and now has rededicated himself to the highly technical art.
“When you’re in hurdles, you’re an all-around athlete,” Ogunbameru said.
Teammate Phillip Thompson bounced around from event to event as a sophomore and early in his junior year, until last year, when it was noticed that he flew while practicing jumps.
“Have we tried him in jumps?” Shirley asked.
He was tried. He excelled.
“This is finally his time,” coach Derek Augustynowicz said.
For Thompson, it was a relief. He’d run every distance and hadn’t run up front.
“I was wondering (if I could win),” Thompson said. “Like in the 800, I wasn’t winning anything. I was always fourth or fifth.”
Thompson has already improved his triple-jump length to 43 feet, 7 inches from 41 feet last year.
He’s also a factor in the long jump, the 200 and the 400.
Augustynowicz is the longtime boys cross country coach. He had assisted Shirley the previous six track seasons.
“These kids worked very hard this off-season,” Augustynowicz said. “That’s including the guys who weren’t in cross country or playing football. They pumped a lot in the weight room.”
The switch to 2A shouldn’t diminish anyone’s interest in excelling.
“We take it just like we’re in 3A,” Ogunbameru said. “We know we’re not going to win anything easy. Qualifying times might be a little easier, but we still have the same goal as a team.”
Thompson has set his goals high this season.
“I think we can take home a state championship,” Thompson said. “We can do that if everybody works hard. We have all the pieces now.”