Panama City, FL--- The Shaldera Youth Track Club has roots established in deep in the local sports scene. After years of absence, the program is back working with elementary, middle, and high schoolers.
Kids as young as six to as old as 18 have come back to the Tommy Oliver track, learning under returning head coach Sylvester Jones.
Track and field runs deeper for Jones. It's not sport. It's life. An athlete turned coach, he led the Shaldera Track Club for 13 years before moving to Seattle to go work as an athletic director for the Boys and Girls organization in Seattle.
Following that with a stop in Atlanta, he's now back home in Panama City, yet his love and passion wasn't found the way he left it.
"Track and field has lost it's interest", says Jones. "Not saying the coaches hadn't done a lot to promote it in the middle schools and the high schools, but there's still a lot more we could do to promote it out here and to keep it going through the summer.
Restarting the program has re-ignited Jones' joys of working with his runners.
"It's an individual sport. It's all about you. There's no other person but you and your coach when you work out. And to see that thrill of you peaking somewhere, making a better time, that's the exciting part of it. And then you see the looks on their face when they actually medal or they get a better time, 'Coach I PR-ed. Coach I got a farther jump. Coach I got a medal.' Those things are just inside blessings you get.
Year one of Shaldera version two has exceeded Sly's expectations.
"It's been exciting I'll tell you," says Jones. "I was shocked, first of all. I didn't think we'd even get this far. We're a small club. We don't charge nothing but a minimum fee just to join AAU pretty much. And then everything else we make is on the parents or on whatever fundraisers we've done in the community."
The kids have gone above and beyond, too.
"I was just happy to see them go through the district meet. Then they got to the district meet, and I was happy to see more numbers take them to the regionals."
Next up for the club is a trip to the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Des Moines, Iowa at the end of the month. To come this far, this quickly, is something Jones does not take for granted.
"It's a blessing" says Jones. "It's truly a blessing because the talent was given to me and it's an opportunity to express the same talent from the words in my mouth to the track in action. It's a blessing to see it actually be put together."
Shaldera is running raffles to help pay their way to Iowa for Nationals. Two prizes are up for grabs: a $100 gas card (one ticket for $1) and a four hour ACT prep session or five hours of Academic Tutoring (one ticket for $5). For tickets, contact any club member or Sylvester Jones at (404) 667-8346