June 05, 2014
By Kenneth D. Miller
Assistant Managing Editor
Among the most prominent alumni of Crenshaw High School’s illustrious athletic history is one track and field star Johnny Gray who was an Olympic champion in 1987 and 1999.
However, after the Cougars football team captured the 2013 City Division I title last fall, momentum was established for another sport to do something special, and low and behold it turned out to be the almost forgotten track and field program.
Operating on a shoestring budget of a measly $200, newly hired track coach Damon Hicklin, 39, knew from the beginning that he had his work cut out for him.
The Downey High School and Fresno State graduate was once a standout performer in the 100,200 and 400 meters, but went to college on a football scholarship.
After tearing his ACL his football future was a wrap, so he return back to region as an assistant varsity football coach at South Gate.
Five years later he became the receivers coach at Azusa Pacific and in 2007 produced All American Johnny Davis.
Another half decade past and he became the receivers’ coach at Whittier College where he developed Damon Fooks into an All American in 2012.
Last fall, Hicklin was hired at Crenshaw as a special education teacher, but it wasn’t long after he was summoned by the administration to take over the hapless track and field program.
It was a daunting assignment, but Hicklin embraced the challenge and the results in his first year at the helm have been stunning.
The Cougars will have eight members of their team representing Crenshaw in the State Championships beginning on Friday June 6 and concluding on Saturday June 7 at Fresno.
Led by City Champions Kayla Williams who captured the 100 title clocking 12.22 and 300 meter hurdle queen Unique Dickens, the Cougars will compete in the girls and boys 4x100 meter relays and will have two performers in the 300 meter hurdles.
Dickens also carries a 3.67 grade point average despite losing both of her parents.
She represents the Cougars bright future, a junior who along with other juniors such as Williams, Brianna Butler and Brianna Walker will be returning to build on the winning foundation next year.
Senior Kalina McKaney on the girls 4x100 relay team at the state meet will join the aforementioned trio.
The boy’s 4x100 meter relay team is composed of seniors Nolan Grigbsy who was also a football champion, Christian Williams, Anthony Madumbe and Kristopher Pollard who stars in soccer and has drawn interest from USC and Texas.
Justin Alexander who ran a personal best of 39.6 in the 300-meter hurdles and finished second at the City finals will qualify for that event.
Hicklin and his assistant coaches took the extra effort to transport team members to and from practice, raise $5000 to compete in meets throughout the season and also washed the team’s uniforms.
He has reached out to the community and alumni by implementing a program of adopting an athlete, assisting the student athletes with track shoes and other equipment.
An estimated 10 percent of the students are foster students, and Williams who lives in Compton rides the bus to and from school each and every day.
“I believe that we have built a foundation to do some special things down the road,” Hicklin told the Sentinel.
“It’s hasn’t been easy, and the students that I have on the team have worked hard to get to where they are.”
It has created a new spirit on the campus that revolves around the track team. Other students now want to come out for the team next year and the champion football players are among the team’s biggest supporters.
Hicklin doesn’t expect to win a state title this year, but he didn’t anticipate that the Cougars would even be at the state finals.
No matter how things turn out during this most unique season, it had been a rewarding one that has cemented a foundation for better things to come.