Story by Tony Jones/images by D. Pierre
Behind every successful athlete is someone that is a mentor, coach, counselor, or role model. In superstar Aaliyah Brown’s case, the Supreme force in her life happens to be her father Angelo Brown. The aforementioned adjectives seem to fit the senior Brown like a glove. In addition, the many young lives that he has molded throughout the years have no trouble in expressing their heart felt feelings toward him.
Coach Brown runs the Illinois Elite youth track club during the off-season. It is more like an organization that has gained national prominence over the past decade and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. During the high school season, though, Coach Brown is an assistant coach for his daughter’s Lincoln-Way East squad located in south suburbs of Chicago called Frankfort. How many coaches start with the monikers: “my personality rubs off on my athletes; you are either going to love me or hate me. I’m not mad at the world, I’m just dialed in.”
IL Prepster: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and where did you grow up?
Angelo Brown: I grew up on the Southside of Chicago with my mom and two of my siblings until the age of 10. Then I moved with my dad, a Chicago police officer, on the Northside of Chicago until I graduated from Gordon Tech High School. I was a two-sport athlete participating in track and football.
IP: Can you tell us a little bit about your coaching background? When did you get started- certifications, years of experience, etc…
AB: As a kid, I stayed actively involved in sports and have always had a passion for it. As an adult the passion continued and I desired to still be closely involved in some capacity. I have been coaching now for about 13 years. I began my coaching career in 2000 with my daughter Aaliyah’s little league baseball and soccer teams. It was her speed on the soccer field that led us to the track. In 2001, we joined the Aurora Flyers Track Club where I was an assistant coach [under Tom Boatright]. My passion for coaching continued to grow and in 2005, I founded my current track club, Illinois Elite. In 2009, I became the sprint coach at Aaliyah’s high school. I have earned a coaching certification from the American Sport Education Program as well as a USATF Level II coaching certification.
IP: What makes Angelo Brown tick? What excites you?
AB: Coaching. I enjoy it so much because it’s where I’m in my element. I love to see the light bulb turn on with my athletes. Don’t get me wrong I love to spend time with my family too. My wife and I like to go to the movies or out to eat for quality time.
IP: We understand that you have a very respectable day profession. Do you mind explaining?
AB: I have been a Firefighter/Paramedic for the Village of Matteson for a little over ten years. When I am not coaching and developing young adults, I find that being a Firefighter/Paramedic is very rewarding and fulfilling as well. I enjoy helping others on and off the track.
IP: You have been open about your athlete’s lofty goals. On numerous occasions you have predicted BIG times but came up short. This year you have said your quartet will crush the IHSA 4×100 relay all-time best of 46.23. Do you really believe this is possible?
AB: ABSOLUTELY! I believe in setting high goals, yet attainable goals. Coaches have to see their athlete’s highest potential and strive and train to execute it. I am a very aggressive coach and don’t mind putting the expectation out there. Just call me the “Joe Namath” of track and field. Records are all about being broken. This gives the track fans something to look forward to and the critics as well for that matter. But, we can handle it. It’s all about competition. We ran 46.97 back in 2010. If this current quartet stays healthy, they can definitely break the IHSA 4×100 all-time best of 46.23. And if I have it my way, that won’t be the only record broken. It’s time for Illinois to get their due justice in the world of track and field.
IP: The haters have quietly begun to respect your Illinois Elite Track Club. How are you able to deal with the real and the fake ones out there?
AB: I am very good judge of character. The haters don’t know me. However, those that do know me respect me. As long as the haters keep my name in their mouth I know that I’m doing well. I hear the stories out there. I heard that people have accused me of all sorts of things, but when you attack my personal character or the character of my athletes I will address the issue (s) directly. I help kids get scholarships- look at the list!
IP: You appear to have a solid relationship with Lincoln-Way East Head Coach Caroline Gerritsen. What is your relationship like with her?
AB: Initially, I had some perceptions about her, but I wanted to meet her. I took Aaliyah to meet her back in the 7th grade (?) and we hit it off very well. I am there to be a coach for the whole team. Coach Cunningham [maiden name] is the head coach and I respect that. She is very organized and she is a good coach. We have a very good working relationship.
IP: What specific goals do you have for your daughters Aaliyah and Asia this season?
AB: Asia, who is a freshman, is a different type of athlete. I want to set her up confidence-wise where she has to find herself academically and athletically. She will be mainly relay focused this year and hopefully will have the opportunity to pass the relay stick to her big sister in the state championship. She will be a key component for our team.
Aaliyah’s goals are to break the state records in the 100 and 200. But keep in mind that she is not a clock runner but more of a winner. She is capable of running 11.2 but it will depend on the competition.
IP: It is plausible that you know of the criticism thrown your way in the handling of Aaliyah’s high school career. She has endured several big injuries that may have prevented her from becoming the state’s all-time best sprinter. What are your feelings on this?
AB: People don’t have a clue; they don’t realize that she is a nationally known athlete who has to compete in the biggest meets. In terms of her races, she only did the two club indoor meets (early January) and the next one is the Brooks meet on February 23. We have a select schedule for Liyah that will include the Arcadia Invite, Texas Relays, and the Penn Relays. The rest of the team will have opportunities to compete in some good meets around the state. In regard to Liyah’s injury, she’s only had one major injury- her hamstring pull during that trip to Puerto Rico [in June 2011]. That’s not my fault! I pulled the plug on her post-season and we began the slow road to recovery. Don’t forget that I have to be there to pick up the emotional pieces at practice and at home because I am her dad. It takes about a year to get back to 100% from an injury like that. Still, we were able to produce an 11.44 despite the emotional and physical wear and tear.
IP: So are you saying that you are the best sprint coach in the state?
AB: Yes I do. That crown has been passed to me. [Derrick] Calhoun (Morgan Park girls coach) had it. Now they call me if they want results! If you train with me you will get results! I will perfect your craft. Of course, you have to have some talent.
IP: There are still are great coaches out there doing amazing things like Boatright. So how can you make that assertion of being the best coach out there?
AB: Boatright is a great coach but things change. It’s a new era. I’m the new and improved. I changed the game here in Illinois and I’m bringing the HEAT. You either step it up or you get stepped on. We have some of the best athletes here and it’s going to last for a while.
IP: What specifically gives you the right to that claim?
AB: I know that we are paper champions [for now]. We are going to have to step on the track and prove ourselves against the competition. We work hard in practice. For example, we have practice at 5:15am four or five days a week. Then we are in the weight room after school. Our participation has been 100%. It’s a whole team thing- LWE is a team. We don’t need to speak. I do know that we going to have the gun and you got the knife. You got the wrong weapon. We are going to live and win championships.
IP: How do you anticipate life once Aaliyah goes off to college next year?
AB: I think I will be a big baby once she walks across that stage upon graduation. It will be tears of joy because of what her [natural] mother would have loved to see. But it will also be joy for her step-mother and the entire family. It’s about Liyah because she has worked extremely hard in the classroom and on the track. But I will be ready for the next crop of track stars.