Track and field is steadily growing in popularity among youngsters in Western Carroll County these days.
The West Carroll Wings track club, affiliated with the West Carroll Recreation Council, has some 45-50 members, its highest enrollment ever.
This past winter, the horizons for youth track expanded even further in that neck of the woods. West Carroll Wings officials created an offshoot called the Maryland Wings, coached by Jonathan Pernell, the founder of the group.
The idea here was to create opportunities for more seasoned athletes who are ready to go beyond local rec level competition. The Maryland Wings go up against more experienced competition from around the state and region.
Roughly 18 youngsters signed up for the new group this summer; about half were in high school.
This newly formed Maryland Wings team began by attending a few indoor meets over the winter. It continued this summer with a local, regional and national meet schedule that stretched from late April to July 30.
"We looked for those with a good grasp of track and field. It ramped up a lot when the high school kids got out," Pernell said.
Pernell explained that track competition in the summer is becoming more popular. The weather is better in June and July when many competitions are held than in early spring. Additionally, there are a lot of track and field meets available to attract athletes.
Summer track and field with Maryland Wings gives athletes the opportunity to receive some specialized coaching in their events and extra opportunity to sharpen their skills.
And while newspapers may not cover track and field much after high school seasons are over, the youngsters can follow the Internet to compare themselves to others competing in their events.
The Maryland Wings also include a few members from other states. Pernell explained that his team sometimes had to search elsewhere for runners to form relay teams.
He says that there have been informal conversations with high school coaches and youth track and field clubs in the area about forming a summer "all-star" kind of team to compete in major meets both locally and regionally.
"I'd love it if we could do this.I'd like to see an experienced group like that come together in some way," Pernell said.
As Francis Scott Key's varsity girls track coach, Pernell is reaping the benefits from the influx of experienced athletes who came though the Wings program.
He expects freshman Summer Ruskey, a sprinter with the Wings last summer, to be one of the fastest female sprinters around this coming spring. Another ninth-grader, Joe Loy, ran distance this past summer and is already a top five finisher in cross country at Key.
Pernell says that ninth-graders Kallie Palumbo and Elizabeth Mahoney, who also competed with the Maryland Wings, "will help our program big time."
Palumbo won a regional indoor javelin championship last winter. She will probably be a runner or jumper for Pernell though, because javelin isn't included in girls field competition. She holds the Wings triple jump record for 13-14 year-old girls.
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Mahoney, "will be one of the best throwers in the county," the coach said.
Seventh-grader Carolyn Cruikshank specializes in the discus. She won the AAU Region 3 discus championship for her age at Morgan State University in June. The youngster also boxes.
"She will be dynamite in two years when she comes to high school," Pernell said.
Zilan Williams won the AAU Region 3, 200-meter dash and was second in the 100 at Morgan. He was third nationally in the 200 and seventh in the 100. He holds the Wings boys age 13-14 team records in the 100, 200 and 400 events.
Perhaps the most exciting member of this summer's Maryland Wings is 12 year-old sprinter Laila Campbell. She was second in the 100 at the Morgan regional and seventh nationally in her 11-12 age bracket.
She also holds the club record for the girls 11-12 long jump, 100, and 200.
"If she went to Francis Scott Key, she'd be my fastest sprinter, my fastest girl hands down," Pernell said.
However, he says she may not go to Key. He notes that private schools are already showing an interest in her.
Pernell says that competing in the summer is extremely beneficial to the youngsters who anticipate a track career in high school and beyond.
"They can focus on their events and get the benefit of extra coaching. They can also develop camaraderie with kids who will be their high school teammates," he explained.