Hard work and practice in sweltering heat paid off for a local track team that boasts nearly a dozen national qualifiers for the AAU Junior Olympics.
The Augusta Flyers, a group of 14 track and field athletes in middle and high schools around the area, will be taking 10 athletes to the Junior Olympics in New Orleans from July 29-Aug. 6.
In order to reach the Junior Olympics, the athletes had to finish in the top five in their respective event during the qualifier, which took place June 24-26 at Laney High School. Most qualified for the first time, and nerves could set in as they face the highest competition for their age. However, coach Dwaine Williams is confident in the group.
"The highest level at this age is the Junior Olympics, and the few we have here made it because of hard work, and it made a winner out of them," he said. "I hope Augusta is proud of these kids."
The Flyers boast the top qualifier in the 400-meter dash in Justin Green. The 12-year-old finished first in qualifying and his coaches have their sights set on more of the same in nationals. Green has the modest expectation of hoping for a top 10 finish.
Anthony Clayton, a sophomore at Richmond Academy who also plays football, qualified for his first nationals in javelin, discus and shot put.
"I hope to place, but if I don't, I'll just do the best I can," Clayton said. "It's the first year I'm doing it, and I was surprised to make it, but I just hope I do good down there."
Clayton uses track and field events to build speed and endurance for football.
"My first practice, I thought I was going to pass out," he said. "I couldn't breathe and I was dizzy. Every day I ran a mile and (eventually) lost 17 pounds, and I got better at it."
Williams said training for the Flyers is a physical asset to those like Clayton, but it is also an asset mentally. Running track events trains the mind and forces the athlete to focus on the task at hand.
The Flyers face stiff competition throughout the season, and it builds mental and physical strength in the athletes as they compete.
For many of the athletes, this experience is what draws them to the Flyers. It helps gain an edge in possible scholarship opportunities in the future -- many former Flyers graduated to college track teams. For some, simply getting out in the sun and burning energy brings them to the group.
"Preparing for the next level, that level of conditioning and training started right here," Williams said. "The level of competition is great. The high school level -- I'm not downing it -- but many of these are middle schoolers, and by the time they reach high school, they'll be starters."