Hughes Sets the Tempo for Warren

Article excerpt

Byline: Patricia Babcock

More than 1,000 pairs of eyes were focused exclusively on Langston Hughes one day last summer.

Like the famous poet he was named after who frequently lectured to live crowds about literature and history, Hughes was about to do some public speaking of his own.

But themes, plots and alliteration were not on the agenda. This was a persuasive speech. This was his chance to sell himself, to get his peers to vote for him.

Langston Hughes was running for governor. Of the state of Illinois.

Through a program called Boys State that uses a week-long camp to teach select students from all over the state about the inner workings of our political system, Hughes eventually won the simulated election. He even went on to become a U.S. Senator and one of two "politicians" from Illinois who got to go to Washington to meet President Clinton.

With memorable speeches, fresh ideas and a charismatic approach, Hughes set himself apart from the other gubernatorial candidates and emerged as a true leader at Boys State. But then, that should really come as no surprise.

Hughes has always been a leader - especially on the basketball court.

The Warren senior is a point guard. And his direction, savvy and leadership ability are big reasons the Blue Devils are 10-3 and tied with Zion-Benton for first place in the North Suburban Conference standings.

Although he torched St. Charles for a career-high 25 points last weekend, Hughes' forte isn't necessarily scoring. He only averages slightly more than 11 points per game.

No, what makes him valuable is the way he excels at the intangibles.

He handles the ball, he distributes it, he directs the offense. And most importantly, he takes control - of the team's attitude, its psyche and its cohesiveness.

"I think of myself as the general coordinator," said the 17-year-old Hughes. "I set everything up, I start the plays, I keep the offense running, I stay involved. I look at it that if I'm doing well, everyone else can be doing well too. So I enjoy having the ball in my hands to make sure that happens.

"But being point guard also means being an inspirational leader too. I try to keep everyone up by keeping a smile on my face. I'm always smiling."

On that day last summer, Hughes' smile was a nervous one.

Never before had he spoken in front of so many people. Never before were the stakes so high. Or were they?

"It was kind of nerve-wrecking because the crowd that you had to make your speech to was kind of loud and rude. It was like the Apollo. If they didn't like you, they'd boo you," Hughes said. "So I was a little nervous. But what helped me was thinking about basketball.

"When you've played in enough games at this level, you've played in front of big crowds where everyone is watching you and one play can make or break the game. …