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Glory Days: Athlete makes Sports Illustrated

High jump champ known for 'pulling through'

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 1:36 p.m. CDT
Jonathan Wells

How does a teenager get his story told in Sports Illustrated's Faces in the Crowd column? Just imagine if all parents wrote to the magazine bragging about their kids.

Sure, this magazine gets plenty of cards and letters. On occasion, however, the magazine finds out about special athletes by itself.

Such is the case of Fox Lake's Jonathan Wells. In the last issue of July, Wells is featured as a recent graduate of Grant High, who won the high jump at the USATF junior nationals. It goes on to explain that Wells is the two-time state champion in the high jump and also won the long jump at state.

Yes, at Grant High School, this is very big news. Dick Knar is the athletics director at Grant after a long successful run as Mundelein boys basketball coach.

"He is the best athlete I have ever been around,'' Knar said. "And I coached Division I basketball and had the NCAA slam dunk champion. Jonathan is a better athlete than him. He also is an excellent kid and a great representative of Grant High School."

Wells credits his track coach, Tom Evans, for helping him gain a spot in the Faces in the Crowd column.

"Coach Evans followed up with Sports Illustrated,'' Wells said.

Evans was more than happy to help out after what Wells brought to his track program. Clearly, this graduate dominated at the state track meet in Charleston.

"He really peaked at state,'' Evans said. "He lives for the moment. When the stakes are the highest, Jonathan pulls through."

Wells hit the magic 7-0 in winning the high jump. Added to his winning long jump, Wells led Grant to a 12th-place state finish.

Now this most successful track star didn't exactly grow up practicing the high jump.

"I was a football player for 10 years,'' Wells said. "I played in Lake Villa for seven years. I was a lineman growing up."

Football followed him to high school.

"By my junior year, I was playing fullback,'' Wells said. "And then I tore my labrum."

Wells had given track a look back in the sixth grade.

"I tried the high jump and it was pretty cool,'' he said.

No he didn't take over the world in the high jump to start with. However, Wells made steady progress as time went on.

"I was doing 5-4 to 5-6 in grade school,'' he said. "But there was no going to state at my school. By my sophomore year, I had a big jump to 6-5."

Wells is aware the sport of track and field doesn't get the same attention as say the football team does.

"Track is not a publicity thing,'' Wells said. "It's not a sport that brings out a lot of media."

Wells was certainly busy during the track season. He didn't just participate in the jumps.

"I think we managed him pretty well,'' Evans said. "He could run on our 800 relay and the hurdles. He has 12 school records here. He's the main reason we did so well. He's just a great athlete. And a captain for us."

His trip to the junior nationals was an experience.

"It was pretty amazing,'' Wells said. "It was pretty cool to watch. What an amazing group of people. I met athletes from Russia, Jamaica, Belgium and Japan."

This state champion will take his jumping skills to the University of Illinois, where he'll study business.

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