Twenty athletes from the Bi-City area will be trying to bring home a national title this week as they compete at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics in Greensboro, N.C. on the campus of North Carolina A&T University.
The meet got under way Monday, running through July 28, and features athletes ranging in ages from 7 to 18 years old. The local contingent -- representing the Tri-City Striders Track Club and featuring athletes from Columbus, Fort Benning and Phenix City -- qualified for the national championships by finishing in the top five in their respective divisions at a qualifying meet in Natchez, Miss., two weeks ago.
"It's great to have all these kids going to nationals and it's because we do hard work," said Striders coach Spivey Green. "We come in there and get work done. We had some kids not make it due to another kid being better that day, but it's not because they didn't work hard in practice. We practice three days a week at Central High in Phenix City and
these kids want to come in there and develop their craft. These kids are going to see athletes from all parts of the country and find out how good they are. It all comes down to that competition."
The Striders' total of 20 athletes qualifying for the national meet is impressive, but what makes it even more so is that the team only has a total of about 45 athletes on its roster. That means close to 50 percent of the Striders were able to punch their ticket to Greensboro.
"For about four-fifths of these kids, it's their first time going to the national meet," said Green. "That's how much talent we have around here. (In 2012), we went to Houston and only four of the 20 that are going this year are repeaters. That speaks to the talent level around here."
The Striders have athletes ranging in age from 8 to 19 years old that will be competing in almost all the available events, ranging from the 100 meters to the 3,000 on the track, the javelin, shot put and discus on the field and the 400 and 1,600-meter relays as well.
Green said he thinks several of the Striders can come home with high finishes - if not a national title - to their credit if they perform well.
"Without a doubt we have some runners that can win national titles," said Green. "All of our kids finished no worse than fifth they competed in Natchez. We have several kids who can win national titles. We have one girl (Taiylor Williams) who has a real good chance. Looking at the seedings, she's first in the javelin and second in the shot, so she'll do well. We have a lot of newcomers who've worked hard. They're just awesome kids who are well-mannered. Some of our kids are hoping to get looked at by colleges, but more than anything, they're trying to make themselves better with what they do."