Greensburg YMCA track athletes compete at national championships
With all eyes on the Olympics the past several weeks, the American public witnessed great feats from some of the world's best athletes.
It's easy to forget how early the best of those athletes began training.
Late last month, the Greensburg YMCA Youth Track and Field Club was represented by nine of its top athletes at the Junior Olympics National Championships in Baltimore, Md. and for some their early start in athletics could lead to a long and decorated career.
In order to qualify for nationals, the athletes must place in the top six locally to qualify for a regional meet. Once there, they must place in the top five to advance to nationals.
“We had some outstanding performances from our athletes,” head coach Jeff Mayo said. “We run our practice on a volunteer basis. I tell the kids and the parents from the very beginning that you get as much out of this program as you put into it. Everybody that comes to the practices is coming because they want to be there and they want to get better.”
The extra work paid off for the nine athletes who traveled to Morgan State University last month — Malia Anderson (Greensburg Salem Middle School), 800-meter run; Kelley Giles (Norwin Middle School), 3,000-meter run; Julia Howard (Greensburg Salem High School), long jump, 100 hurdles, pentathlon; Jasmine Jones (Hempfield High School), 100, 200, 400; Chad Kaylor (Greensburg Salem Middle School), javelin; Jake Kaylor (Greensburg Salem High School), 110 hurdles; Tori Mayo (Hempfield High School), javelin; and Cassidy Sheppard (Greensburg Salem High School), pole vault.
Howard placed eighth in the youth division (ages 13-14) in the long jump. She also placed eighth in the high jump in 2010 in Sacramento, Calif.
“She far exceeded her best at the national,” Mayo said. “I was not expecting her to place in that event. I was pleasantly surprised. We were very happy; it just shows she was born a competitor.”
Howard, who was originally a gymnast, joined the program two years ago and benefits in many events from her hard work and flexibility.
“Her gymnastic background really helped her once we could get her to stop holding her hands perfectly straight,” Mayo said. “Julia is a really classy girl. She's a hard worker. She takes it upon herself to do extra work. We have practice in the evening and she takes it upon herself to practice twice a day to work on all the events because she does the pentathlon.”
Like Howard, about 80 youths showed up for the summer track program ready to train. The ages vary from 5 to 18, with middle school being the dominant age group.
“We have kids in high school, but it seems that when they get to high school they also do indoor seasons and they seem to get pretty tired,” Mayo said. “By then a lot of them start to work too so they seem to fall off at the older ages with us.”
However, by starting young, Mayo and his coaching staff have been able to give their athletes an edge for their high school career. Mayo said Westmoreland County track programs have flourished over the years due to the increase of track clubs.
“Coaching is the difference,” Mayo said. “We are able to get these kids when they are young and teach them how to long jump, high jump and teach them how to come out of the box and work for sprints. Just to get them some experience so that when they go to do track at the middle school they have more experience than the kids that haven't done track.
“I really see a big difference.”
Brittany Goncar is a freelance writer.