Friday, July 30, 2010

SPORTS>>Team Elite hits Junior Olympics with high hopes

Leader sports editor

Team Elite, the local AAU track club, is headed to Norfolk, Va., today for the AAU Junior Olympics.

The Olympics, already under way, are based in Hampton Roads, Va., but events will be held in Chesapeake, Va.; Hampton, Va.; Newport News, Va.; Norfolk, and Virginia Beach through Aug. 7.

“These kids have overcome a lot,” Team Elite coach Walter Harris said during a break in Thursday’s workout at Jacksonville High School. “The thing is, most of the ones I’ve got are either champions in the state or they came in one and two in the next level so they’ve got a pretty good chance at the national Olympics to do pretty good.”

The Team Elite program, in its sixth year, is sending close to 30 Olympic qualifiers ages 10-17 who qualified in the four-state Area 11 meet at Tulsa on June 25-27. A competitor must finish in the top four of a state event to qualify for area competition and must finish in the top four there to qualify for Junior Olympics.

The Area 11 meet featured teams from Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri.

“I think we’ve got more this year,” Harris said. “Each year we get better and better. I think we took 22 last year. I think we’ve got about 30 kids this year.”

Team Elite has produced athletes like Newport’s Caleb Cross, currently a hurdler/sprinter at the University of Arkansas; Blytheville’s Whitney Jones, now playing basketball for the Lady Razorbacks; Arkansas sprinter and football receiver Cobi Hamilton, of Texarkana, and Razorbacks running back Dennis Johnson, also of Texarkana.

“We have had great kids through our program,” Harris said.

Of the 16 girls working out Thursday night, nine were from the Jacksonville area, but Harris said Team Elite has athletes from all over the state, including Fayetteville’s Brianna Robinson, a member of the 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams.

Harris is also enjoying the added good fortune of coaching his daughters Daijah — who will compete in the 200 meters, the 400 meters and the long jump and has been a Junior Olympics bronze medalist — and Kiarra, competing in the 4x100 and 4x400.

Harris was reluctant to handicap the Olympics but said Team Elite’s steady improvement over the years gives him reason to be optimistic.

“It’s hard to tell because you’re looking at all 50 states, champions from all 50 states coming in,” he said. “These kids competing each year, last year was our first time ever getting a medal in the relays.”

The primary goal for Team Elite, Harris said, is drawing the interest of college recruiters and getting his athletes a good education.

“We have been in existence for six years so far and we have had 95 percent of our kids go to college. That’s our whole purpose,” Harris said.