Photo by Bill Roseberry
Jeff White, a ‘98 graduate of Roxana High, is the new boys’ track and field coach at Alton. White is standing on the new track on the AHS campus, which will play host to home meets for the boys’ and girls’ teams in 2016.
Jeff White played football at Roxana and coached boys’ track at Madison High.
Now, he’s guiding the Alton Redbirds and White, 35, couldn’t be happier about it. He’s intent on building a competitive program and bringing the Birds back to prominence in Southwestern Illinois.
“It’s a great opportunity because you are competing in Class 3A and the Southwestern Conference,” said White, a 1998 Roxana High graduate. “And outside of Chicago, it’s the toughest conference in the state for track. There’s a hotbed of track talent in this area.”
No kidding. Cahokia has claimed the Class 2A IHSA championship the past five years and Edwardsville captured its first Class 3A title last spring following a second-place finish in 2014.
East St. Louis Senior has snagged 10 state titles, now-closed ESL Lincoln snared five and Alton won IHSA championships in 1963-64 and 1969. In fact, from 1960-72, or covering 13 years, the Redbirds finished in the Top 3 at state 9 times.
So there’s storied track history at AHS, although the Redbirds haven’t had a Top 5 finish at state since finishing fifth in 1989.
Of course, with a new coach and a new track — on the AHS campus — the Redbirds have high hopes. They finished sixth with 54 points in last Saturday’s 12-school Southwestern Illinois Relays at Edwardsville High and welcomed the Alton Relays on Wednesday.
All of the boys’ and girls’ home meets will be at the new Alton High track instead of venerable Public School Stadium.
“It’s a great facility and it has everything you would want,” White said of the track, which circles a new soccer field. “And the track is right here at the high school. That’s important.”
So far, so good, White said.
“We have some pretty good numbers — about 40 guys out — and I’m a big believer in multi-sport athletes,” he said.
White plans to work with football coach Eric Dickerson and basketball coach Eric Smith in developing tracksters. Dickerson previously served as the AHS head track coach.
“Eric (Dickerson) is working as an assistant track coach this season and I have a good relationship with him,” said White, a Glen Carbon resident.
He added, “The talent is here. The first thing is to recruit athletes for track and make it attractive to them.
“We want to get kids to state and also develop our younger kids so that our freshmen and sophomores are competitive in their meets.
“That’s the future.”
Seniors such as Keenan Stegall and Ron Gilchrese could emerge as leaders. Two more seniors — Zachary Llewellyn and Harrison Henderson — plus juniors Tony Dobbins and Arie Macias, and sophomore Jonathan Bumpers, are among other Redbirds to watch. Llewellyn finished second in both the shot and discus at the Southwestern Illinois Relays. Macias took third in the 1,600-meters and Bumpers placed third in the triple jump.
“We can build our team around these guys,” White said.
Stegall sees steady improvement as one of the Redbirds’ chief goals.
“I think we will be a lot better than we were last year,” said Stegall, the Birds’ quarterback during the football season. “Overall, things are improving and we like the new track. It was always such a hassle to go to West (at Public School Stadium) for practice.”
He added, “Our goal is to get guys to state this season. It will be a good experience for us if we can do that.”
White, who will concentrate on the sprinters and jumpers, figures the Redbirds can fly higher as the season progresses. He doesn’t mind rolling up his sleeves, going to work and doing what needs to be done.
“I’m a competitor,” he said.
The Norm Armstrong Invitational at Belleville West (April 9), the Granite City Invite (April 15), the Mascoutah Military Classic (April 22), the Winston Brown Invite in Edwardsville (April 23), the Madison County Meet (April 26), the Granite City Relays (April 29), the Collinsville Invite (May 7) and the SWC Meet at Granite City (May 11) highlight the remainder of the schedule.
Collinsville will play host to the Class 3A sectional May 20 and the three-class state finals run May 27-28 at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.
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