ETHS honors its ’greatest athlete’

Athletic director Chris Livatino called him the school’s “greatest athlete.”  Superintendent Eric Witherspoon called him a “true legend.”

A love fest for the late Evanston Township High School’s former athletic director and Olympic medalist, Willie L. May, was evident as the school dedicated its field house Friday in a rare naming ceremony.

Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty proclaimed Feb. 9, 2018, as Willie L. May Day in Evanston.

Cook County Circuit Court Judge Larry Axelrood, an ETHS alum, recalled that despite May’s description of his football team one year as “too small, too slow, too dumb, too weak, and had no discipline,” it went on to record a 17-1 year under Coach May’s leadership.

May’s athletic nemesis but close friend, Olympic gold medalist Hayes Jones, traveled all the way to Evanston from his current home in Atlanta to be among the 200 or so parents, teachers, coaches, and former students to attend the ceremony, on a day when snow resulted in a suspension of classes at the school, to honor May’s 45-year career at ETHS.

Among the coach’s many accomplishments:

As a student at Blue Island High School, now Eisenhower High, in 1955, he led the school to an Illinois state championship while personally collecting three gold medals in the 120-yard high hurdles, 180-yard low hurdles, and in the 880-yard relay.

At Indiana University, he won seven Big Ten Championships in the hurdles between 1957-1959.  Then, in 1960, at the Olympic Games in Rome, he won the silver medal in the 110-meter hurdles and another silver medal at the 1963 Pan American Games,

He landed at ETHS in 1967 and won four IHSA State Championships in 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1974, and led the Wildkits to 26 CSL Conference Championships, including 24 consecutive titles between 1976-1999.

He has been inducted into the Indiana University Athletic Hall of Fame (2000), the Illinois Track & Cross Country Coaches Association Hall of Fame (2007) and the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame (2010) as well as being named the greatest athlete in the history of Blue Island High School.

Superintendent Witherspoon noted that the school board is normally reluctant to name portions of the school for individuals, but it was more than willing to make an exception in naming the field house for Coach May.

Other speakers included former ETHS coach and principal at Haven Middle School, Don Michelin, and retired ETHS athletic director and head badminton coach, Shirley Nannini, who recalled that May would occasionally fall asleep at meetings, but concluded that “with Willie, what you saw is what you got.”

Finally, May’s wife and former ETHS English teacher, Norma, thanked the crowd for honoring her husband and noted that, while he had many opportunities to coach elsewhere, “his loyalty was always to the orange and blue.”

Earlier stories:

ETHS to name field house for legendary coach

Olympic medalist and former ETHS athletic director dies

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