The five youngsters took their places on the track, looking awkward. The starter's pistol popped. One child cried. It was the first time any of them had heard that sound up close and real, but the T. J. Striders Track Club was off and running.
Coach Tyrone Jackson hugged each tired athlete and reassured each that with hard work, and time, their dreams would be fulfilled. As would his. The club's first race was four years ago in July, when he was coaching as a hobby. As Striders gained in skill, so did he. He began to set his sights on a coaching career that would involve him with adults as well as youths.
This summer, he crossed another hurdle: Mr. Jackson, 31, was appointed the men's and women's head coach at Catonsville Community College, a part-time position he'll assume this fall. He's considering working in real estate to supplement his coaching income. He'll continue to lead the Striders; he is most proud of their achievements.
Q: What is your background in track?
A: I started competing with the East Orange [New Jersey] Striders, which is also a youth program. Next I competed for Clifford Scott High School, and then competed for the University the District of Columbia. For a few years after college I was a member of the D.C. Capital Track Club.
Q: What was your event when you competed?
A: The 110-meter hurdles and the 200-meter sprint.
Q: What gave you the idea to start a track team?
A: I've always wanted to coach. From the time I was competing I wanted to coach. At the time, I wasn't doing anything pressing to prevent me from starting a team, so that was how it came about.
4 Q: Did the team start out with a winning record?
A: No. They were very, very raw when they started. I wouldn't even consider them as being competitive when they started. But as time went by they got more dedicated. They learned more about what it took for them to become competitive and what they would have to do to build their muscles, bodies and minds.
Q: Does your team compete only in local meets?
A: No. We try to get the team to do as much traveling as possible. It's better for us, when we go to meets like the East Coast Championships, the National Age Groups Championships and the Junior Olympics, if we've had at least one opportunity to compete against teams from other areas. It gives us a chance to see what the other teams are doing, what kind of condition the other runners are in, and who are the key runners from other areas across the country.
L Q: Do you have goals you still hope to achieve for the kids?
A: We have a goal for each and every one of the kids on the team, which is for each of them to complete high school and then go on to college. Some of them will be able to use their talents in track and field as a means of getting them into college. That's one of the major goals that we have for them. One of the kids who competed on the team and is realizing that goal is distance runner Anita Manning. She has accepted a full scholarship to the University of Kentucky, where she starts this month. She's a perfect example of where we want these kids to go, of what we expect out of them.
Q: And have you achieved goals you set for yourself?
A: Yeah. One of my goals was to make this team grow, and each year it has. I not only wanted it to grow in numbers, I wanted it to grow in talent; I wanted to see the kids grow in terms of developing into young adults, which they are doing.
When I started the team, I basically did all the training and made all the team arrangements myself. At the end of the summer season I look forward to a merger of my team with the Northwest Striders Track Club that was founded by Marcus Battle, who is also their head coach. The new team, T. J./Northwest Striders Track Club, will start with a roster of about 45.
L Q: Have you had any disappointments since starting the team?
A: I have to say that the most disappointing thing has been the lack of support for programs like this in general. Not just from the city, county and state governments but from the community.
All these young kids, they need something positive, something for them to do. And when you have a situation where the government feels the need to cut the budget . . . and you start cutting things like recreation centers that keep them off the streets, you are basically saying we don't care about young people. And even corporations that make money in the community, in turn can't find a few hundred dollars to support young people in the community.
All of our fund-raising we have had to do basically on our own. And it does take quite a bit of money to keep a program like this going.
Had it not been for Col. Leon Haney [retired], who is in charge of the Pikesville Armory, our kids would not have had an indoor facility at which to practice because we were turned down by a number of area colleges and universities that had such facilities.