Chicago Catholic League Track & Field
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By Marcus Pass
Leo High School
Running track and field in the oldest conference in the country is not only a blessing, it’s a privilege. The Chicago Catholic League has seen some extraordinary athletes and unique individuals grace its courses and its tracks over the last century.
There are 16 schools in the Catholic League, but that figure does not begin to measure the number of spectacular track & field athletes who have competed in the conference during its 100 years of existence.
Tom O’Hara, Ryan Shields, Tony Simmons, Chris Watson, Harold Leonard and Jack Keelan make up only a handful of big-time CCL track performers, O’Hara, a 1960 graduate of St. Ignatius College Prep, was the first man in Illinois to break the
four minute barrier in the mile.
Representing Loyola University, he ran 3:59.2 on Feb 15, 1963 at Madison Square Garden. O’Hara still holds the record for the fastest mile run in Illinois3:56.4.
While competing for St. Ignatius, he ran and oftentimes won the quarter mile, half mile and mile, as well as contributing to the mile relays.
At Loyola, he was the NCAA Division I individual champion in cross country in 1962.
Two years later he made the U.S. Olympic team and ran a 3:43.4 in a semifinal heat in the 1,500 meters, finishing seventh.
Leo is the only Catholic League school to win a state track championship since the CCL joined the IHSA in 1974. The Lions, under Coach Ed Adams, have done so seven times, six times in Class A and once in AA.
Leo’s Ryan Shields is perhaps the most accomplished sprinter in IHSA history, dominating every event he entered from his sophomore year to senior year.
Shields became the first athlete to sweep the Class A sprints 100, 200 and 400 meter
dashes three years in a row, from 2000 to 2002.
In 2002, he broke a 25-year-old Class A record for 400 meters with a time of 46.76. Shields led the Lions to a state championship that season with a record-setting
St. Rita’s Simmons, a future University of Wisconsin football star who also played pro ball, was a double state champion for the Mustangs in Class 2A, winning the 100 and 200 meter dashes in 1993.
Leo’s Watson, a future Denver Bronco, matched that feat two years later.
In 1985, Mt. Carmel’s Leonard won the 3A 400 meters in 46.51, a state record that still stands.
The 3A record in the long jump also belongs to a Catholic Leaguer, Gordon Tech’s Steve Battle, who jumped 244¾ in 1989.
The CCL had four individual champions in the 2013 state meet, including St. Ignatius’ Keelan, who helped the Wolf Pack to a fourth-place finish in the 3A meet with a double victory at 1,600 (4:12.11) and 3,200 (8:57.61) meters.
Andrew Helmig won the 110 meter high hurdles in 13.99 seconds for 3A runnerup
Marlon Britton’s meet-winning time in same event for Leo in the 1A meet was 14.47.