Updated: May 1
This past summer, three amazing Judah athletes achieved state and national honors in their sports.
Senior hurdler Daryl Okeke competed in the state track and field meet in Charleston, Illinois, and won third place in the 110-meter high hurdles and the 300-meter intermediate hurdles. Senior super-athlete Tucker Yasunaga made it all the way to the USA Gymnastics National Championships in Mesa, Arizona, and is ranked eighth in the country on the parallel bars. And sophomore speedster Josiah Brown ran in the 2022 USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championships in Sacramento, California, and won the boys’ 4 x 400-meter relay.
Judah’s principal, Jim Moxley, has only good things to say about Daryl Okeke and his contributions to Judah athletics: “I got to know Daryl in my weightlifting class last spring. He looks like a man among boys.” Yet Daryl began his track and field journey as a young boy. He joined Judah’s track team in sixth grade with no prior experience. He learned the ropes and soon became one of the school’s top runners, making it to the state championship several years in a row.
This past summer, however, things really took off for him. To Daryl, it was just another meet. He ate his usual pre-run peanut butter and jelly sandwich and listened to his favorite playlist to get in the zone. But his performance was anything but ordinary. Clearing ten 3-foot, 3-inch hurdles in just under 15 seconds, Daryl won third place in the 110-meter high hurdles for his state division. Soon after, he ran the 300-meter intermediate hurdles in just over 40 seconds, quickly clearing eight 3-foot hurdles spaced widely over the track. Once again, he won third place in the state. Now in his senior season, Daryl is optimistic about his potential. When asked for advice to new runners, he said, “Stay in your lane. Focus on the fundamentals, and drink plenty of water.”
For Tucker Yasunaga, gymnastics has always been a part of his life. His mom started him in gymnastics, among other sports, before he could walk, and he hasn’t slowed down since. Looking back over the years he’s spent in gymnastics, Tucker says that he has obtained many skills that are useful in his life, many relationships that have enriched his life, and many party tricks. A combination of those has steered him toward achieving his best feat yet: ranking eighth in the entire nation on the parallel bars.
To many athletes, making it to nationals five years in a row would suffice, but Tucker wanted more. Tucker practices his routines over and over again, constantly tweaking and perfecting them.
When it comes time to compete, he describes his frame of mind as typically calm. His nerves disappear as he talks with the other gymnasts. Reflecting on the national championship meet, Tucker was proud of how he performed. But because he was recovering from an injury, he was disappointed that he could not compete in all six events. His future in gymnastics is bright. He wants to continue his gymnastics journey in college and keep his job coaching younger gymnasts.
Josiah Brown is a part of the Vipers Track Club, which is based in Champaign-Urbana but draws athletes from across central Illinois. In July, Josiah ran with the Vipers in the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympic Championship and, with his teammates, won the boys’ 4 x 400-meter relay. All together, they ran a mile in just under 3 minutes and 20 seconds, with Josiah running his leg in 50.2 seconds. Josiah describes his teammates — 15-year-old Ronald Baker of Champaign Central High School, 16-year-old Cedric Sabin of Urbana High School, and 16-year-old Jayvon Morrow of Kankakee High School — as “the best teammates I’ve ever had. They hold you accountable and have a solid work ethic. They’re really good friends, and we’re all goofy.”
Looking back on the race, Josiah said that he was satisfied with the outcome. He has participated in track and field since he was very young, and all the time and effort has paid off. Marques Lowe, Josiah’s track and field coach, had only positive words to describe Josiah’s work ethic: “He’s one of the hardest working individuals on the field. Maybe the hardest worker. He is always finding ways to improve his game.” You can tell that Josiah Brown loves what he does. He is always improving his running game, step by step.
— Bethany Jackson, class of '23, and EJ Hairston, class of '24