Olympic medalist and former ETHS athletic director dies

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.

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