When O’Neal Wanliss of Holy Innocents’ was required to do a senior project at his school, he came up with an idea connected with his love for track.
Wanliss is the two-time defending Class A state champion in the 400 meters. Last week, he turned in the 10th fastest time in the nation at 47.7 seconds in a South Carolina meet.
The cleats that Wanliss wore on his feet for the race will eventually be donated to his “Spikes 4 Tykes” project. Wanliss collects track shoes from teammates and opposing schools to give to underprivileged kids in Jamaica, where his dad is from.
The project is part of the Program for Global Citizenship at Holy Innocents’, which encourages students to focus on leadership and community services from a worldly perspective.
“I’ve played soccer all my life, and whenever I had old cleats, I would send them to my family and cousins in Jamaica,” Wanliss said.
“With my class project, I saw this as an opportunity to expand on what I had been doing, but with track cleats.”
Wanliss said he has collected around 30 pairs of cleats, which he will distribute in a trip to Jamaica within the next few months. Before every track meet, Wanliss contacts the track coach and athletic director at the opposing schools to tell them about “Spikes 4 Tykes.” Wesleyan and Landmark Christian are among the schools that have donated to the cause.
“Above all, O’Neal is passionate about the development of young people in Jamaica,” class instructor Quinton Walker said. “As such, it elevates his social entrepreneurship project to something more akin to a personal mission to help build the educational experience of youth in rural Jamaica.
“His efforts will live well beyond his high school career at Holy Innocents’.”
The 5-foot-9, 130-pound Wanliss could have a lot of old cleats in future years. He has signed a track scholarship with North Carolina. Wanliss is undefeated this season in the 400 and favored to win his third consecutive state title in the event.
He credits last week’s effort at the Taco Bell Classic, when he recorded his best time of the season, to improved technique and being pushed by other runners.
“I was able to run my season-best because of the competition,” Wanliss said. “I don’t usually go up against that type of competition during the regular season. It pushed me to go faster.”
Wanliss also has worked hard to change his bad habit of standing up too quickly at the start of the race. Last week, he gradually came out of his low starting stance over the first 10 steps.
Last summer, Wanliss ran a career-best 47.33 to win USA Track & Field’s Youth National Outdoor Championship. He also is beginning to compete in the 800 meters, winning that event also last weekend in South Carolina.
Anyone who wishes to donate track cleats, may send an email to Wanliss at firstname.lastname@example.org