Longtime Evanston girls track and field coach Fenton Gunter had a saying to describe recent graduate Parker English’s final high school season, which culminated with titles in the 200 and 400 meters at the Class 3A state meet.
“She had her Janis Foster moment,” Gunter said.
Foster, a former Wildkit, closed out her career at the 1989 state meet by winning the 100 and 400 and being part of the victorious 4×100 and 4×400 relay teams.
“Like Foster, Parker [English] just went crazy her senior year. Her performance at state was against some extremely elite girls,” Gunter said. “Parker pretty much put the team on her back and just carried us.”
Now, English and Foster share another distinction: They are two of three Wildkits runners to be honored as the Gatorade Illinois Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year during their senior year. Evanston graduate and former USC Trojan Shalina Clarke also received the award in 2006.
English, who plans to run collegiately at Notre Dame, filled out a nomination application, and teachers and coaches wrote letters on her behalf. According to the Gatorade website, the award takes into account athletic performance as well as classroom and community work.
English had 3.42 grade-point average, she volunteers at the Foster Reading Center in Evanston and participated in an event in which Wildkits athletes mentored girls from local middle schools.
“[The award] was kind of a surprise,” English said. “It’s very cool when you see the other people who have won for track across the country and in the state of Illinois.”
The list of past winners of Gatorade’s national girls track and field award includes Olympians Marion Jones, Sanya Richards (now Sanya Richards-Ross) and Allyson Felix. Shot putter Raven Saunders of Charleston, South Carolina, won the national prize this year.
English, Clarke and Foster are the only three Evanston athletes in any sport to have received a Gatorade Player of the Year Award, which was established in 1985 and is given in 14 sports.
Evanston’s storied track history is not lost on English, who finished third in the state in the 400 as a sophomore and junior and second in the 200 as a junior. However, for a brief moment at the state meet in May, English began to doubt she was a worthy successor to the Wildkit greats of the past.
After failing to quality for the finals in the long jump, English declared she did not deserve to wear the 1980s Evanston jersey bestowed upon the program’s top athletes during the biggest meets.
“She said she didn’t deserve it because she didn’t do her job,” Gunter said. “But we said, ‘Now we’ll find out what doing your job means.’ She went out there and did what she started. It was her moment of truth. She could have stood up or faded. But that young lady stood up and had a heckuva two-day meet.”
In addition to winning the 200 and 400, English finished third in the 100 meters. In the 400 prelims, English broke a school record by running a 53.80. In the final, she defeated two-time defending state champ Brittny Ellis of Warren and North Lawndale’s Briyahna DesRosiers, who earlier in the season had run one of the top four times nationally in the 400.
Evanston junior hurdler Remy Amarteifio said she and other Wildkits runners gathered in the corner by the finish line as the 400 race reached its closing stretch.
“Coming down the straightaway, you saw she wanted it so badly, she fought and didn’t give up,” Amarteifio said. “We were screaming because we knew she would win. To have practiced with someone like Parker all year, someone who became a state champion, is amazing.”
English said she had learned about leadership and work ethic from her predecessors in the program, specifically the upperclassmen who joined her on the state-winning 4×200 and 4×400 relays in 2011: Margaret Bamgbose, Jahnell Horton, Alexa Bolden and Danyale Griffin.
“Freshman year, I was surrounded by a core group of girls who really showed me what our track team is all about: hard work, dedication, pushing yourself,” English said. “Their job was to push me. They kept with me and taught me to be patient, and that my time would come, that if you just keep working hard, it all takes care of itself in the end.”