Long-time Evanston Township High School athletic director Willie May died Wednesday evening.

The school’s current athletic director, Chris Livatino, reports that May sucumbed to the rare blood disese, amyloidosis.

May started work at ETHS in the late 1960s and had served as a physical education teacher and head coach of boy’s track and field in addition to his role as athletic director.

He retired as athletic director and a teacher in 2000 and as head coach in 2006 but continued as an assistant coach through the start of his 45th season at the school this year, Livatino said.

Born in Alabama in 1936, Willie May burst onto the Illinois Track & Field scene in 1955, leading Blue Island High School, now Eisenhower High, to an Illinois State Championship while personally collecting three gold medals in the 120-yard high hurdles, 180-yard low hurdles and in 880-yard relay with Ron Helberg.

He then went on to Indiana University where 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.

After earning another silver medal at the 1963 Pan American Games, May decided to begin his teaching and coaching career.

He found a home at ETHS in 1967 where he served as an assistant coach to his former Blue Island teammate, Ron Helberg, winning four IHSA State Championships in 1970, 1971, 1972 and 1974.

After taking over as head coach in 1975, May led the Wildkits to 26 CSL Conference Championships which included a run of 24 consecutive titles between 1976-1999.

He also guided ETHS to five IHSA State Trophies including the State Championship in 1979 and developed over 50 medalists during his tenure as Head Coach.

In 1983, May was hired as Evanston’s athletic director, a post he retained for the next sixteen years while continuing to teach physical education.

Coach May 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.

“What will always define Coach May for me,” Livatino said, “was the grace, humility and strength with which he carried himself and his teams at Evanston Township High School.  In a word, he was nobility.  While soft spoken, the power of his raspy voice inspired and elevated his student-athletes on and off the oval to great heights in track, in school and most importantly in life.”

Livatino said May was also a great mentor to many ETHS coaches as a colleague and athletic director.

“Whether it was a story from another era or just the perfect quote, Coach May knew how to advise a coach on how to handle a situation without having to tell the coach what to do,” Livatino said. “He put his trust in your decision and you made sure you did not disappoint.  I will miss seeing his slow, steady stride around the fieldhouse track and I will miss his warm smile and confidence in the athletic office.”

Plans for funeral services for May have not yet been finalized.

Update 10:30 a.m., Saturday, March 31: Memorial services for Willie May have been set for Saturday, April 7, at St. James AME Church at 9256 South Lafayette in Chicago.  Visitation will begin at 10 a.m. with the service at 11 a.m. Condolences may be sent to his wife, Norma May, at 8333 S. Dorchester, Chicago, IL 60619.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Amyloidosis

    What a sad day this is. 


    Muriel Finkel/Amyloidosis Support Groups Inc / ASG / 501 ( c ) 3 Charity /  232 Orchard Drive/Wood Dale IL 60191 /  http://www.amyloidosissupport.com / Toll Free 866-404-7539 / http://www.amyloidosisonline.com / over 1200 have joined / http://www.familialonline.com / over 140 have joined / muriel@finkelsupply.com / Organization Member of NORD /www.rarediseases.org / “Recycle yourself, be an organ donor”

  2. Another one of the great ones fades away

    Did not know he was ill, very sorry to hear of his passing. He was my Driver's Ed teacher when I learned to drive in the Spring of '68, and my son's Track and Field coach from '01 – '05 – saw him at all the meets.

    Another one of the great coaches that ETHS has been blessed with is gone. He will be missed. Time for someone else to emerge and keep the flame lit for ETHS.

    Chuck Psotka – Class of 1970

  3. One of the Evanston Greats

    Though he was not as fond of soccer as he was of track, he was always supportive of his coaches, his athletes, the school and the Evanston community.  Let me know when we rename our track in his name – I will be there for that.

    Coach Franz Calixte '89 

  4. Coach May was one of the

    Coach May was one of the greatest coaches and men I have known. The most humble and guiding force in my life as an athlete and then as a coach. Robert Gary ETHS Class of 1991 1996 & 2004 Olympian Head Men's Track Coach The Ohio State University

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