The year was 1996.
Two-time United States Olympic sprinter Rochelle Stevens was days removed from having won her first gold medal in the Atlanta Games.
Consequently, she caught a direct flight to Memphis International Airport. Within minutes after stepping off the plane, she was met by a throng of reporters. Still, the hoopla surrounding what transpired in Atlanta couldn’t merely overshadow the splendor Stevens felt as she held for the first time Donavan Ellison, her newborn nephew.
“It was a great moment,” said Marvin Ellison, Donavan’s father, during a recent telephone interview with MemphiSport from Atlanta. “We were very proud of her. It was a great event for her. But at the same time, it was a great moment for us.”
Though Donavan Ellison was too young to recall the day his aunt, an iconic international sports figure, embraced him within days after she struck gold, he has managed to follow in her lofty footsteps as a track and field athlete.
Coached by Javier Jenkins — who guided Dominion Christian to third-placing in the state though the school had a the lack of facilities — Donavan Ellison recently completed what was a memorable stint as a fierce sprinter for Dominion Christian School in Marietta, a small private institution located in the outskirts of Atlanta.
While the school boasts a small enrollment and doesn’t have its own track, that did not prevent Donavan from having a huge impact in the sport. For starters, the 17-year-old senior erased the memory of what was a challenging junior campaign by capturing state titles in the 100 and 200-meter dash and a runner-up finish in the 400-meter dash.
In addition, the rising sprinter also won the 2014 Regional High Point award after placing first in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter, 400-meter dash, as well as the 4×100 and 4×400 meter relays.
Not bad following a junior campaign in which he qualified for four events in state competition only to place in two.
However, given the solid preparation Donavan invested to advancing to state, placing sixth in the 200-meter dash and seventh in the 400-meter dash ultimately gave way to a sense of disappointment for an athlete who essentially was a newcomer to the sport.
Fortunately for Donavan, though, his father and mother, Sharyn, provided him with just the inspiration he would need to atone for last year’s performance at state. While on a podium to receive his medal following the 200-meter dash event, Marvin Ellison snapped a photo of his son who, as he tells it, appeared rather “dejected” by his showing.
“He had a frown on his face,” said Marvin Ellison, “but I took that photo because we wanted him to use it as motivation.”
To his credit, Donavan used the snapshot as bulletin board material, of sorts. How else to explain his resurgence during what was a memorable senior season that was culminated with multiple state titles?
“It all started in the summer,” Donavan explained. “I was talking to (Stevens) and she said, ‘The next year, you need to win. You didn’t need to place sixth.’ I had to do well because I was running five races. That whole summer, it was about my (endurance) up so I can be strong and stay with my competition.”
Donavan relishes the fact that he could freely consult Stevens — who made consecutive Olympic appearances in 1992 and 1996 — for advice on how to upgrade and polish his mechanics as a rising sprinter.
“It’s amazing because I can sit down with her and often watch her run,” Donavan said. “She’s a gold medalist, a national champion, and she has all of these accomplishments. So I know I have to listen to her.”
Like Stevens, who was an 11-time All-American at Morgan State University and seized four national championships — Donavan is now aiming to garner a track and field scholarship. He plans to enroll at the University of Memphis this fall, the same institution from which his parents graduated.
Even if the U of M doesn’t extend unto him an offer, Donavan plans to earn a spot with the program as a walk-on. Marvin Ellison, meanwhile, is confident that things will work out in his son’s favor when all is said and done.
“His football coach is also his track and field coach,” Marvin Ellison said. “His coach is taking his times and those to the (colleges). He’s very competitive. He wants to be competitive in every event he competes in.”
Just like his Olympic gold-medaling-winning aunt, who embraced him wholeheartedly just days after she struck gold in 1996.
An awe-inspiring moment Donavan can thoroughly savor now that he has emerged as a state champion.