A year ago, Tre’Shon Balden-Ames wasn’t certain he would obtain a high school diploma. He bounced between Grace Christian and Trinity his junior year before returning to Kankakee for his senior year.
But before the school year, Balden-Ames learned because of IHSA regulations concerning transferring from private to public schools, he wouldn’t be able to compete in basketball, his favorite sport, for the first semester of the school year, news that almost caused him to drop out.
“When they told me I couldn’t play basketball first semester, I thought, ‘I might as well not go to school anymore,’” Balden-Ames said. “But I knew I had to graduate to make it up to my mom and my grandpa.”
Not only did Balden-Ames stick with school and graduate in May, but he will be continuing his academic and athletic careers at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa.
“It makes me tear up at night sometimes when I think about it because I was such a pain in the butt to [Mom and Grandpa],” Balden-Ames said. “To do this and make it up to them brings joy to my heart.”
Balden-Ames, who competes in the high jump and long jump, will have some familiar company in Ottumwa, as fellow jumper Robert Taylor and track runner Jocelynn Crowell, two more 2019 Kankakee graduates, also will attend Indian Hills.
Taylor, who will compete in the high jump, long jump and triple jump, went on a campus visit with Balden-Ames. He said Indian Hills wasn’t the only school he looked at, but eventually knew it was meant for him.
“It was nerve-wracking — one of those decisions where you kind of feel bad not going to the other schools because those people opened their arms,” Taylor said. “We checked out the school, and it was like, ‘I could fit here.’ The puzzle pieces just fell into place.”
Crowell, who was a state finalist in the IHSA Class 2A State Finals this year in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and the anchor of the 4-x-100-meter relay team, said after getting looked at by some NCAA Division I colleges and considering that route, she decided to join her male comrades after meeting Warriors coach Brent Ewing.
“I started to fall in love with [Indian Hills] because Coach [Ewing] was really accepting of my process and what I wanted to do,” Crowell said. “He was so hands-on and reached out to me, saying that if this was what I wanted to do, to go ahead.”
Kankakee boys and girls track and field coach Marques Lowe, who just finished his first season at Kankakee, said no matter where his student-athletes decide to go to college, getting them there is his ultimate goal.
“It’s always the No. 1 priority, not so much what school I want them to go to, but what school they want to go to,” Lowe said. “You hear people talk about going into the trades, but when you have a kid that’s a dual threat, the student and the athlete, why not send them to school, whether small or big?
“Crowell had 10 [NCAA] Division I schools looking at her, but that wasn’t her path. Her path was to start somewhere small and then go somewhere bigger.”
In attempting to build up the program, it’s the kids coming back on breaks, sharing what they’ve learned in college with the new generation of Kays, that will help Lowe.
“It’s important for our kids here in this area because you don’t see it often,” Lowe said. “For the kids to come back and give even five or 10 minutes is great for the program.”
That’s especially true for Balden-Ames. He never had competed in the track and field arena until this year and hopes to inspire those who might be on the fence about trying something new.
“No matter what you do, if you want to do something and have some fun, just go for it,” Balden-Ames said. “Nobody can tell you what you can or can’t do.”
While Taylor wasn’t in as dire a situation as Balden-Ames, the decision to jump at Indian Hills wasn’t what he had envisioned for himself one year ago either. After seeing a future on a college football field, he didn’t receive any football scholarship offers, which inspired him to improve in the field.
“In track, I was terrible my first year — my first few jumps were awful,” Taylor said. “But with the help of Coach Lowe and his brother, Coach Jay, I came through and ended up being ranked in the state.”
College track and field wasn’t a realistic ideal for Balden-Ames or Taylor, but for Crowell, it was. Now that she’s seeing that goal come to fruition, she already knows what she wants next.
“I’m going to study forensic science with a minor in Spanish or psychology,” Crowell said. “My goals are to knock my times down, sign somewhere else and, hopefully, become a pro and go to the Olympics some day.”
Balden-Ames and Taylor also have their professional ambitions in order, as both plan to graduate from Indian Hills and finish their athletic and academic careers at four-year schools — Balden-Ames in sports management and Taylor in technological engineering.
While Lowe certainly enjoyed seeing the future Warriors in action with the Kays, it’s what the three will do going forward that makes him most proud.
“I’m proud of them because it wasn’t in the plans for a few of them to go to school,” Lowe said. “They all have the ability to be great athletes; I was more concerned with the student side of things.
“When it worked out for them with both sides of things, it just made it that much better.”