Flyers members seek spot on national stage


As fans blew and generators buzzed, Justin Green sat in the stands listening to music as the action unfolded below.


On a blistering Friday afternoon, Green and several of his teammates sat underneath the large tent in the stands at Laney High School's football stadium. He watched other participants in the AAU Area 6 National Qualifier Track and Field Championship as he prepared to compete later.

In his first year running with the Augusta Flyers, Smith attempted to earn a spot in the AAU Junior Olympic Games, July 27-Aug. 6, in New Orleans.

With a potential trip to Louisiana on the line, Smith said he didn't mind being out in the heat. Running track, he said, beat his other summer options -- staying inside either watching TV or playing video games.

"That seems boring to me," Smith said. "I need something to pass the time."

Smith is one of 13 members of the Augusta Flyers competing this weekend in the AAU national qualifier, which runs through Sunday at Laney. While he competes in three events today (100, 200 and long jump), some of his club members already qualified for the Junior Olympics -- participants had to finish in the top five of their respective event to advance.

Lavaisiette Keller, an 11-year-old competitor entering sixth grade this fall at Langford Middle School, earned a spot in the nationals in pentathlon. This will be her fourth trip to the nationals, where her best finish is sixth out of 36 girls in pentathlon.

"My goal is to finish at least third," she said. "It might be fun."

Jhenia King, of the Flyers, also qualified for nationals in the javelin, while Alysia Rouse made it in the discus. Aryelle Jenkins also qualified in the discus.

Green, 12, also sought a national bid. He competed in the 400-meter dash late Friday.

Green joined the Flyers, Augusta's local track club, after running for fun against family and friends.

"Everybody said I was fast," he said. "It's been a very fun experience. I've met a lot of new people from different parts of Georgia."

Alex Gibson, one of the Flyers' coaches and a former 200-meter high school state champion, is hoping to help grow the Flyers. This season, the club has only 14 members -- one is in high school, the rest are 12 or younger. In past years, the Flyers have had 20-25 youngsters.

Gibson is trying to figure out how to attract more youth to his program. He said video games and air conditioning are two reasons there's not more track and field competitors.

"Some kids just don't want to be out in the heat," he said.

After the Junior Olympics, the Flyers season will begin in full with practice in February. From there, the team will participate in various meets before trying to qualify for nationals again.

Before this year's national meet, the Flyers will spend July working to get better. Though the club is small, the children look to bring back plenty of medals.

"I'm going to make sure they have fun," Gibson said. "But I'm also going to make sure they focus. They have to continue to improve. There's still time to get better."

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