Coaches mourn former Palatine High School football, track star

Coaches of former Palatine High School track and football standout Courtland Cornelius are mourning the loss of the inspiring 19-year-old who drowned Friday in a Wisconsin lake.

Cornelius, who had been a student at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wisconsin, drowned while swimming with a friend in Whitewater Lake, about 55 miles from the school. He was attempting to retrieve a drifting personal watercraft when he went underwater Friday afternoon, authorities say.

Former Palatine High School football coach Rick Splitt said Cornelius' combination of competitive drive and fun-loving spirit made him dynamic in his two sports.

"He was the kind of kid you want around," Splitt said. "He inspires everyone to do their best and makes you enjoy what you're doing."

His breakaway speed made him a talented running back, but he also was able to step into the role of quarterback when circumstances demanded.

In track, he set the school record for the 100-meter dash - 10.5 seconds - and was a part of two record-setting relay teams.

Palatine High School track coach John Nalley fondly remembers the star sprinter.

"When people have asked me about Courtland I always tell them that he loved to compete," Nalley said. "He never hesitated to take the baton in a relay and thrived on competition. He had a very good four years."

The camaraderie of being a team player was one of the pleasures of sports for Cornelius, Splitt said.

"I think what really drove him was to put on a jersey with all of his buddies and go out and play," he said. "It was a fun group to coach because they were all real tight.

"He was a unique kid who worked hard," Splitt added. "His ability was unbelievable. I'm very sad to know this happened. It really breaks my heart."

The Walworth County sheriff's office investigation into Cornelius' death remains open pending the results of toxicology tests ordered as standard procedure, Capt. Robert Hall said. There is no evidence of foul play or any indication his death was caused by anything but drowning.

The friend swimming with Cornelius reported that he became distressed while swimming and went below the surface of the lake. He was not wearing a life preserver, police said.

The sheriff's office received the call for help at 5:28 p.m. Friday. Divers recovered Cornelius' body at 9:55 p.m.

Cornelius is survived by his parents, six siblings, three grandparents, three nieces and many aunts and uncles.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help the Cornelius family with expenses. By Tuesday afternoon, it had raised $8,773 - exceeding its original goal of $7,000.

Visitation will be held from 9 a.m. Saturday, June 2, until the time of the funeral service at 11 a.m. at Glueckert Funeral Home, 1520 N. Arlington Heights Road in Arlington Heights. Interment will be at St. Michael the Archangel Cemetery in Palatine.

  Courtland Cornelius, a former prep sports standout at Palatine High School who was attending Carthage College, drowned Friday in a Wisconsin lake. In this photograph, he's pictured at the first practice of the 2016 football season. Mark Welsh/, 2016
Courtland Cornelius sets up his starting block at a Palatine High School track meet. The football and track standout, who graduated in 2017, drowned in a Wisconsin lake Friday while swimming with a friend. Courtesy of Terry Leonard
  Courtland Cornelius (7) was two-sport star at Palatine High School. The 19-year-old drowned Friday while swimming in a Wisconsin lake. Daniel White/, 2016
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