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The coaches and athletes with the West Carroll Wings track and field club had a lot to cheer about this year. Its coaches were very happy with the growth in membership that has now reached 48. The club has come a long way from four years ago when it began with only 18.

But those cheering loudest were probably the kids themselves. Many of them have become top flight competitors who are making their mark around the state and well beyond in youth track and field circles. Each year, more and more of them advance from individual meets to qualify for state and even national-level competitions.

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These achievements are a growing source of satisfaction and pride for both the coaches, the kids and their families.

But the proudest of the lot this year has to be Kallie Palumbo. The 13-year-old Northwest Middle School student finished fifth in the nation with a 90-foot javelin throw at AAU's Junior Olympic Games, held July 28-Aug. 6 in Houston.

The Wings, sponsored by the West Carroll Recreation Council, works with youngsters ages 6-18 who are interested in developing their skills in track and field events and in improving their overall conditioning.

Practice begins in February at Francis Scott Key, and there are two or three of them per week. Tournaments began in early April, and competition finishes with national meets in early August.

The Wings participated in about 20 meets this year.

They are often outnumbered at those meets. But coach Jonathan Pernell says that the quality of his athletes usually equals or exceeds that of their opponents even though he has fewer kids.

He credits the quality of the coaching for much of that. The group has nine or 10 assistant coaches who work with the youngsters. This allows the club to give them valuable one-on-one coaching and develop their skills more quickly.

Pernell explained that most began simply as parent volunteers and were then encouraged to develop their teaching skills in events in which they are interested. But they are becoming more than that.

Many have already taken on line coaching instruction from AAU. To expand their knowledge and value as coaches even more, they will soon take courses supplied by the USA Track Federation (USATF), the sport's governing body.

"This will be one of our top priorities," Pernell said.

The club's policy is generally to enter athletes in two or three different types of events when they are young. This exposes them to varying types of competition and lets them decide which is best for them. Sometimes though, a child demonstrates such a strong aptitude in an event that the coaches encourage him or her to specialize.

The Wings organization has been able to send athletes to national competitions from the very beginning. Four qualified in its first year, 7-8 in the second, nine last year, and 13 this time.

The coaches decided to raise the bar for their athletes this season by entering them in tournaments conducted by the USATF.

"The USATF runs good youth events. We wanted to give the kids more experience and open them up to better competition. We had the quality of kids who would do well in these," Pernell explained.

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Every meet had its moments this year, but Pernell says that a couple of them stand out in his mind.

The Wings' 4x100-meter team of Nigel Henderson, Kevyn Humes, Chris Campbell, and Therman Hawkins finished second in Coppin State University's Team Maryland meet on May 28. Laila Campbell finished first in the long jump.

The June 28-July 3 Hershey National Meet at Millersville University (Pa.) produced a lot of outstanding performances by the Wings' competitors.

Palumbo's javelin throw put her in the top eight finishers in that event. Carolyn Cruickshank finished there in both the discus and shot put.

Sprinters Laila and Chris Campbell along with Henderson, reached the finals (top eight) in the 100 meter dash. Sarah Pernell reached the finals in the triple jump.

As the season winds down, anybody can sign up for the district meet.

However, Wings assistant coach Kim Palumbo explained that athletes must finish in the top eight in their event at districts to advance to the regional competition (which is the state-level meet). The top four finishers there qualify for the nationals.

Of the 13 Wings members who qualified this year for the AAU nationals, 10 went.

Those 10 were throwers Terra Miley and Elizabeth Mahoney, along with Emma Taggart, who finished fifth in the nation in both the high jump and heptathlon two years ago. Throwers Matt and Owen Watkins went along with sprinters Henderson, Humes, Laila, and Chris Campbell.

Finally there was Kallie Palumbo.

She had been there in 2015 and finished 13th in the javelin throw. This time, Kallie wanted to do better.

"I wanted to get into the 90's and stand on the podium," she said. "I was nervous before I threw, but I knew I shouldn't be nervous when I threw because I wouldn't do well."

However, the youngster threw well enough to achieve both of her goals. Her 90-foot heave was fifth-best out of 70 contestants. And she got to stand on the podium and receive her medal.

"It was like a dream come true, she said. But then she quickly declared, "I want to get there next year, too."

Needless to say, her mom was equally thrilled and maybe more so.

"It was amazing. It was really a highlight to see my kid standing up there," Kim Palumbo said.

Pernell is proud of her as well as the rest of his performers. Next year he wants to make a change he hopes will benefit both his top athletes and the new inexperienced ones who are just learning.

The West Carroll Wings will become a rec level club where youngsters can learn events and get some beginners' experience in meets. Its coach will be Joshua Porter.

But the more experienced performers, many being of high school age, will be broken off into a new group, the Maryland Wings. This team, coached by Pernell, will enter top competitions in order to develop their skills more quickly and completely.

"We were getting kids from other areas who want strong competition. But we're getting others who just want a rec experience. They don't want the demanding schedule where they have to give up two weekends a month to go to tournaments," Pernell explained.

A chief beneficiary of this new arrangement will continue to be the Francis Scott Key track and field team along with Pernell and Palumbo, who coach there too. The track varsity has already felt the effects of the Wings' development program.

The four Wings who now attend Key all qualified for the state championships as freshmen this past season. And that is just the beginning. More graduates from the Wings will attend FSK in coming years. Pernell says that coaching at both the youth and high school levels gives Palumbo and himself an advantage.

Knowing the challenges of high school track and field first hand will allow them to better prepare their youth team's athletes to meet those challenges.

"We can see how the kids will need to contribute at high school in a couple of years from now, and we can help them succeed there," he said.

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