Lincoln Roars with Pride as Jjk Returns as `Hometown Hero'

Article excerpt

Jackie Joyner-Kersee Our Hometown Hero She Kept Her Head Up

Message board in front of Lincoln High

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, students jammed the Lincoln High gym. The room rocked with an electric atmosphere. The school's choir and band waited. The dais was decorated with American flags and red, white and blue balloons.

Some students had dressed in their Sunday best in anticipation of an appearance by Joyner-Kersee, a 1980 graduate of the school who has become the symbol in East St. Louis of achievement and excellence that community leaders urge youngsters to pursue. In the classroom as well as on the athletic field.

USA Track & Field honored her Wednesday as part its "Hometown Hero" program that recognizes American gold medalists at the 1993 World Outdoor Championships in Stuttgart, Germany. She won the heptathlon, an event in which she has set four world records in the last nine years.

When Joyner-Kersee entered the gym, on the arm of principal John Bailey Jr. and track coach Nino Fennoy, the room erupted in cheering and shouts of "Jackie! Jackie!" As JJK, Bailey and Fennoy neared the dais, she suddenly broke away and went to the stands where she exchanged high-fives and hugs with students. She soon was lost in a sea of hands, swallowed up by students eagerly reaching for her. She worked her way all around the gym, then took her seat, waving to everyone. The students cheered more loudly, if that's possible.

Earlier in the morning, the school dedicated the "JJK Wall" in its cafeteria. Lincoln senior Sharonda Jones, 19, and junior Kelly Floyd, 17, together spent 85 hours on the art work. Their painting features a likeness of Joyner-Kersee and Fennoy and words that represent her credo: "Desire, Determination, Dedication." She signed the wall Wednesday.

There's little that can rejuvenate JJK as much as a return to her hometown of East St. Louis. In truth, she never left, not in spirit anyway. Her career has made an imprint on East St. Louis. Lincoln students are drawn to JJK because of her pride in the town and her willingness - even though she's a world-class athlete - to return to give of herself to the school and community. …