Photo by Heather Middleton
By Doug Gorman
As an overcast sky hung over Twelve Oaks Stadium Tuesday evening, the Cougar track and field club battled through a night of stagnating heat and humidity.
It was all apart of another practice session for the two-year old track and field program that caters to athletes 6-to-18 years old.
In its short existence, the squad has nearly doubled, expanding from 17 athletes when the program first started a year ago to nearly 35 now.
"I have been volunteering with Clayton County Parks and Recreation for sometime, but we decided with this program we wanted to give kids an outlet to participate in a summer track and field," head coach and team founder Nolan Wallace said. "We want the kids and their parents to know that track extends past the parks and recreation department, and this is a great opportunity for that. The relationship with the parks and recreation department is really good."
There has been plenty of success stories to go along with the young program.
Twelve Cougar athletes have qualified for next month's AAU Nationals in New Orleans.
But Wallace is quick to point out accolades with this team are measured in more than just how many races or events an athlete wins.
"Our motto is gold medals don't make champions, hard work does," Wallace said.
Wallace has surrounded himself with good coaches who share his philosophy on what track and field can do for young and impressionable athletes.
"Track is one of the best sports to teach life lessons," assistant Lamar Grant said. "It's a personal battle that you have to conquer every day, and then there is that team aspect too. There are so many life lessons."
Shauna Garrett, who has qualified for the nationals in the discus, enjoys the family atmosphere that comes from being apart of the Cougar team.
"Our coaches and our parents aren't just out here for one child, they are out here so everyone can succeed," Garrett said. Basically, we are like a family. We are all here for each other."
Assistant coach William Jones says the Cougar track club stands for something special.
"We are a little different, he pointed out. "We focus on developing the complete child. It's not just about track and field, but we try to teach them structure. We want them to learn certain things and how to have discipline in life."
The Cougar track team gives individual athletes a chance to improve their times. Just ask Nichole Slocumb.
"It feels good to know that there are a good amount of coaches helping me with my races," said Slocumb who has qualified for the nationals in the 3,000, 1,500 and 800. "It's nice that they are helping me improve throughout the summer."
Maybe Rodney Tookes, a national qualifier in the 200, 400 and 4x100 relay team said it best.
"It is a fun experience and you make a lot of friends," he said. "You get to meet each other and you have team work. It's great experience for kids."
What: Cougar track and field program
Where: Practices at Twelve Oaks
Qualifiers to AAU Nationals: Shauna Garrett (third-place disc), Imani Carmouche (third- place high jump), Rayner Tyler (fourth-place shot put), Jamaya Tookes (fourth-place long jump), Tenac Grigsby (third-place 800 meters), Nichole Slocumb (3000 meters first, 1500 meters third place, 800 meters, 2nd place), Benjamin Okafor (800 meters fourth-place, 4x100 third place), Tyrce Williams (high jump, fifth place, 4x100 third place), Nolan Wallace (long jump fifth place, 4x100 third place), , Rodney Tookes (200 meters fifth, 400meters third, 4x100 third place), Isis Grant (Long jump, fourth) and Dashana Morris (800 meters, second place, and 400 meters, second place).
AAU Nationals: July 13-17 in New Orleans
Cougar Coaching Staff: Nolan Wallace (head coach), Lamar Grant, William Jones, Rodney Tookes and Cris Renc