By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray, Gary Crusader
Close to half the team of Gary’s Steelers AAU Track Team qualified and represented the City of Gary during the U.S. Junior Olympics Track and Field Tournament this summer.
Coached by Morris Smoot, the 52-member team consists of girls and boys ranging in age from 5 to 18 years old who attend Banneker Elementary School, Thea Bowman Leadership Academy, Merrillville Intermediate School, John Woods School in Merrillville, Merrillville High School and Steel City Academy.
The team members participate in numerous events that include the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,500 and 3,000 meter dashes, the race walk, the shot put competition, the javelin throw, the hurdles, long jump and high jump.
The team’s outdoor season began in May and its indoor season started last year in December. Smoot said the team’s indoor group had 28 kids to win 17 gold medals, 9 silver medals and 15 bronze medals during the Nationals held in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He said, “During the outdoor season we had 22 to qualify for the U.S. Junior Olympics that were held in Humble, Texas this summer.
The team has traveled all around the country to participate in tournaments. Some of the places the team has traveled to include tournaments in Illinois, Michigan and Ohio.
Smoot said although they had 22 students to qualify for the Junior Olympics, they could only take 16 members of the team due to limited funds needed to cover the traveling expenses for the trip. He said, “We partnered with the American Legion Post in Gary to sponsor a pancake breakfast to raise money and we had a doctor from Methodist Hospital’s Emergency Room, Dr. Mike McGee, to donate $500 to help support us as well since three members of his family are team members. “I’ve seen what other communities are doing for their kids and I wanted to give ours the same shot. I have three members of my own family on the team,” said McGee.
The unisex team is coached by assistants Michael Hill, Tony Woods, Jerean Lewis, Taishe Abrams, LaTricia Hill, Genevieve Smoot and Joyce Falls.
Smoot said, “This is an organized program that we dedicate our time to and take pride in each individual member of the team. All of our coaches are certified through the U.S. Track and Field Organization. These are some hard working kids that love what they are doing on and off the fields. We just need more support from our community to be able to travel and represent our team as an entire group without having to limit ourselves to the number of members we are able to take to tournaments.”
Smoot said if the team only had the total support of all the cities, schools, parents and organizations they are representing, they would be able to travel more as an entire team. He said, “We could do more if we had more.”