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Boys Track: West Side wins first state title in 34 years

West Side team members hoist up coach Gene Johnswith state championship trophy taking 1st by 2 points over Carmel IndianUniversity

West Side team members hoist up coach Gene Johnson with the state championship trophy taking 1st by 2 points over Carmel at Indiana University on June 6, 2014. | Jim Karczewski/Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 9, 2014 6:44AM



BLOOMINGTON — After a 23-year hiatus, high school track in the city of Gary is officially back on the map.

The last Gary school to win a state championship was Horace Mann in 1991, and West Side had not captured the title since 1980. But both of those streaks were halted on Saturday night as the Cougars’ 41 points edged past the Carmel Greyhounds (39) for the 2014 state championship.

“It’s all about being patient. The Lord works in mysterious ways,” West Side coach Gene Johnson said. Johnson, in particular, knew about patience. He’d waited over 40 years in his coaching career that covers three sports to earn a state title—and the accompanying shower of water from his victorious athletes. “I’m soaking wet — and glad to be. It’s a beautiful shower.”

The state championship came down to the final event: the 1,600-meter relay. With West Side trailing Carmel 39-36 on the scoreboard, the Cougars needed one more big performance to take the crown.

Making the task even more difficult was the absence of Jon Vea’ Johnson, who could not compete in the race because of a nagging left hamstring. It was up to the group of — in order— Deronte Buggs, Barry Wesby, Carlton Sims and Lonnie Johnson to complete the comeback.

“Our coach told us that we were down by three points, so we had to give it our all,” Sims said. “That’s what we did.”

“I don’t know if that’s the fastest time we’ve ever ran, but I know it’s the hardest I’ve ever ran and the worst I’ve felt after,” Wesby added.

The Cougars finished second in their heat and fifth overall with a time of 3:19.41, scoring five points. Carmel’s team was up in the third and final heat. During its first exchange, though, Carmel’s baton hit the ground, costing valuable seconds. The Greyhounds’ relay team would finish outside of the top nine spots, earning zero points and giving the Cougars’ the win.

That was just one event, though. The Cougars needed several other events to set up that final drama — like the one they got from senior Jon Vea’ Johnson. He took third in the 100 (10.94) and, despite limping badly between races, took second in the 200 (21.76).

“I had to run the 200; it was mandatory,” Jon Vea’ Johnson said. “We were only down by a couple and to contribute those points was clutch. It’s my last year running track so I might as well go out with a bang.”

His cousin, Lonnie Johnson, scored a crucial 10 points by winning the long jump with a leap of 23 feet, 6 inches. Ten more points when to the Cougars when the two Johnsons, Wesby and Sims teamed up to win the 400 relay (41.32).

All that success earlier in the night set the stage for the wild finish at the end — and a West Side state championship.



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