Young and Talented, Kenneth Allen Is On His Way to Greatness

Posted: January 10, 2012 in Okafor's Corner
Tags: , , ,

Kenneth Allen finally emerges from the Thornwood High School’s men’s locker room around 20 minutes later than he had promised. He had taken a shower following the morning’s cross country practice and is now cleaned up and ready to be interviewed.

As he approaches, I ask Allen why it took him so long to shower and get dressed and the 17-year-old Junior responds, “I like to be fancy.”

An honest answer, indeed.

Allen is wearing a light grey, Thornwood shirt with blue letters across the front. Two hours earlier, he had arrived to practice with the shirt placed on a hanger, a scene that happens before every morning cross country practice. The shirt appears to be ironed with no visible wrinkles and his jeans are crisp as well. He is rocking pristine, white Samoas shoes. The lining of his hair is sharp and a well-kept jerry curl hairstyle sits atop his head.

Similar to many teenagers, Allen cares about his appearance, but the peculiar level of attention to detail that he shows towards his looks—a constant topic of playful ridicule by his teammates and coaches—differentiates Allen from his peers.

However, beyond his preoccupation with his appearance, what truly distinguishes Allen is his exceptional track ability.

Well Accomplished Despite Youth

In his sophomore year, Allen dominated the Junior Varsity Southwest Suburban Conference championship. He finished second in the open 100, prevailed in the open 200, and won the open 400 by 30 meters. A few weeks later, Allen led off the Thornwood High School 4×400 meter relay team that finished first at the class 3A State Championship. And then to conclude the season, Allen was apart of the 4×400 meter relay team that finished second at the 2011 New Balance Outdoor National High School Track and Field Championship, which took place at North Carolina A&T University in June. Comprised of seniors except for Allen, the team ran a time of 3 minutes and 14.07 seconds, breaking a 30-year-old Thornwood High School record by 3 seconds.

Conference champion. All-State athlete. High school All-American.

Outstanding accomplishments made even more remarkable by the fact that Allen achieved the aforementioned feats in only his first season running track.

“[We are] always looking for the next big thing and it could be Kenneth Allen. He is definitely on track. He is right on pace as one of the best sophomores to ever come through here,” says Brian Evans, head coach of the Thornwood Boy’s Track & Field team. “Very bright future for Kenneth Allen and he could leave here as the fastest guy.”

That is very high praise considering that Thornwood High School has a very rich boy’s track & field history. Thornwood won the class 3A State Championship four years consecutively from 2001-2004 and the majority of the many pictures taken of Thornwood all-state athletes that are framed and mounted on the walls of the hallway leading to the athletic director’s office belong to boy’s track & field standouts. Recently, to compensate for the gradually decreasing space for mounting pictures, Thornwood elected to heighten the requirement for a track & field athlete to appear on the wall. No longer does merely an appearance at State sufficiently warrant a picture; only a fifth or better finish at State suffices.

Deficient in Focus and Maturity

Allen first developed an interest in track during his freshman year at Thornwood. He played football for Thornwood in his freshman year and in accordance with his fickle disposition towards sports, he quickly lost interest in playing football. “I used to always come home and complain like ‘I can’t wait till football is over. I can’t wait. It is so boring and stuff like that,” recalls Allen.

Meanwhile, Allen was enrolled in an art class taught by Evans and regularly, track athletes stopped by the class to visit Evans. Sporadically, some of the track runners appeared sporting medals bestowed upon them as a result of winning a race or a meet. The medals greatly appealed to Allen and from then on, he coveted the shiny pieces of metal. Seeing the medals engendered his interest in track.

Eventually, in the fall of his sophomore year, Allen decided to try his hand at track and the first step was to join cross country because it provided valuable offseason training for track. Although he inconsistently attended cross country practices—he only attended a total of five—Allen managed to finish All-Conference in the Junior Varsity division.

The absences at the cross country practices were a microcosm of the issues that Allen needed to resolve before he could reach his full potential. He was immensely talented but lacked in focus and maturity. Overtime, he has improved in those areas and is now the epitome of perfect attendance at practices. According to Evans, Allen did not miss any summer and cross country practices in 2011.

“This is the kid that we couldn’t get to come out a year ago,” reflects Evans. “Again, that is part of the maturity but also, I think that he’s also starting to see that if I put my energy and focus into one direction and I give it my all, I can be really good.”

High Expectations for 2012

How good Allen will be in the 2012 track season is unknown but Evans has lofty expectations for Allen and perhaps more importantly, Allen expects plenty from himself. Allen wants to make it to State and Nationals in the 4×400 meter relay and personally, run 48 seconds in the open 400. Evans foresees that success will be much more difficult to achieve this season because Allen will not surprise anyone. “You are not a secret anymore. So, now that target kinda gets on you,” says Evans. He anticipates that Allen will have to compete with excellent contemporaries from Homewood-Flossmoor High School, Nequa Valley High School, and Northside College Prep High School for the first place spot in the open 400 at State.

While Allen worries about how to fix the misaligned strand of hair or how to wash off the speck of dirt on his shoes, he will strive to continually improve and will gladly welcome the increase in attention that, presumably, will occur if he remains on this path to high school track superstardom.

“He likes the glory. He likes the spotlight. He likes the picture and the name in the newspaper. He likes his name on the announcements. He likes the picture on the wall. He loves it,” says Evans. “Hopefully he is the superstar but not because he told you about it.”


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