West Milford's track and field young team making its mark

| 11 Jul 2018 | 02:44

By Kalleen Rose Ozanic
In its second year running, the West Milford Youth Track Clinic has been an unexpected success, serving more than a hundred athletes from the township.
Beginning in 2017, the youth track clinic serves up-and-coming athletes aged 6 to 14, with activities and track events catered to their age groups.
Campers running through scheduled activities and games over the course of four days to sharpen their skills in various track and field events. On the last day, they participate in a track meet.
The track camp was organized and coached by the president of the West Milford Junior Highlander Track and Field team, Brian Leslie, and staffed by coaches Arthur Joecks, Sharon Piecuch, Matt Romeo, and Vincent Moretti.
Community volunteers from the high school track team jumped in to encouraged the campers.
Summer clinic helps develop team This summer, the clinic costs $100 for the four-day package, but parents can also opt for the pay-as-you-go option, which is $30 per day.
Athletes begin with a lap or two around the track and then a group stretch to get them ready for the day’s fun and activities.
Then, the athletes join their group leaders. At that time, the campers begin their daily activities, including practice for events like shot put, javelin, discus, triple-, long-, and high jump, and running events ranging from the 100-meter dash to the mile.
Included in the cost of the clinic is unlimited water, a snack each day, and a guaranteed T-shirt.
This cost has remained consistent since last year, when the clinic made its debut.
“I didn't really have any idea what track and field was until I got to high school and I wanted to give my children and other children an opportunity to do track and field prior to that [stage in life],” said coach Leslie.
Unlike football or baseball or lacrosse, track is a sport that isn’t introduced to children at a young age, leaving them to discover potential success in the sport at a much later age.
Leslie hopes the clinic will help kids develop foundational skills of track and field and a desire to compete.
During the clinic, it is important to make sure the campers have fun and enjoy their time in the clinic, so they are “always working on a track skill, even when it doesn't seem like it,” he said.
Team received help getting startedAnd while the clinic has been massively successful in the past two years, with revenue increasing from $6,000 to $6,500, it wasn’t as easy in the beginning. Money is the biggest issue, and "getting the word out," he said. "Getting it started up, meeting up with parents and letting them know what track was. Really, having the parents on board was enough to get what we needed.”
The clinic was jump-started by members of the West Milford family, who donated and financial support from the West Milford Travel Soccer League. They also raised money on a GoFundMe campaign.
Highlanders team went farWith the funds raised from the clinic in 2017, the Junior Highlanders Track and Field Team was born.
The team was immediately successful. Out of the 34 members on the team, 24 qualified and took the trip to the New Jersey Junior Olympics, setting personal records and earning medals.
From there, another 12 qualified for a regional east coast meet, which is the last qualifying competition before the National Junior Olympics.
A handful of these athletes already have qualifying marks and are aiming to place at the regional competition.
The impressive and effective coaching delivered by Leslie, Moretti, Romeo, and head coach Mark Sprague, has marked the Junior Highlanders as formidable among its competition.
Coach hopes team doublesLeslie expects the team to double in size, from a current membership count of 34 members to an anticipated 70.
"Everybody is out there competing with one another, but it's fun competition," Leslie said. "More than anything, it is team building with these kids; each person affects the other person.”
Alison Carbone, whose daughter, Gabby, and son, Nick, both participate in the clinic and compete with the Junior Highlanders, recognizes that track “is an individual sport that also builds a team."
"You compete against yourself and for yourself, but it's also a great team environment," she said. "I have one kid that likes to run and one that does not, and here, I have something for the both of them.”
Track offers many activities and events for various interests, and the clinic and youth team have found a place in the community.
To sign upTo sign for the West Milford Youth Track and Field Clinic next Spring, please go to westmilfordtandf.com.