Angelo Brown has witnessed every Aaliyah Brown race as both father and coach. He had never seen this reaction.
The fist-pounding. Her arms waving in the air. It looked more like frustration than celebration.
“I was like, ‘Really? 11.41, 11.42.’ ‘ ” said Aaliyah Brown, a Lincoln-Way East senior. “I couldn’t just lean a bit more?”
Brown won the race, the 100-meter dash at the Class 3A girls track and field state meet last month in Charleston, recording a personal-best 11.42 seconds in the process.
It was one of four state titles she won that day, giving the Texas A&M-bound sprinter a whopping nine in her prep career. But the time left her one-hundredth of a second shy of fulfilling her quest to own a state record.
That came a bit later.
With Brown as the anchor, junior Alexis Hyshaw, freshman Alexis Pierre-Antoine and freshman Asia Brown — Aaliyah’s sister — ran the first three legs of Lincoln-Way East’s state-meet record 1 minute, 36.86 seconds in the 800-meter relay.
The Griffins, with the help of volunteer assistant coach Angelo Brown, won the state championship as a team, and Aaliyah Brown won the 200 and helped the same Lincoln-Way East foursome win the 400 relay.
For her accomplishments, she is the Tribune/WGN-Ch. 9 Preps Plus Athlete of the Month for May.
“I wanted to go back and get that (100) record,” Aaliyah Brown said. “I almost had it. I told my team, ‘I’m going to get a record in an individual event or a relay. I’m even happier I did it as team. I was able to congratulate and share it with my sister and my teammates.
“To accomplish a goal like that with my sister is such a great feeling, especially because she is a freshman. She was asking me, ‘Aaliyah, what should I do? What should I do?’ Now she knows she doesn’t need me. She’s going to get her name out there as Asia Brown, not Aaliyah Brown’s sister.”
Family and track have long gone hand in hand in the Brown family.
Angelo Brown, once a sprinter and football player at Gordon Tech, discovered Aaliyah’s speed on the soccer field when she was 6 years old. A year later she won the first of several AAU national championships in track.
She lived up to her billing by winning the state championship in the 100 as a freshman, and she doubled in the 100 and 200 the following spring.
When she won the 200 but finished second in the 100 as a junior last year, she kept the hamstring injury that limited her training quiet.
Hiding an injury was easy after the way she bottled up her emotions a few years earlier.
When Aaliyah Brown was in seventh grade, Rhea Brown died of breast cancer, leaving Angelo, Aaliyah and then-4-year-old Angelo Jr. behind.
“My dad always calls me the stronger one,” Aaliyah said. “I’m not the one to always show my emotions. I had my little sister, my brother and of course my dad losing his wife. I wanted to make sure they knew there was hope for this family, that we cannot forget about her, but move on as a family.”
By that point Angelo had started an AAU team, the Illinois Elite Track Club. Motivation suddenly was hard to come by.
Aaliyah found the strength.