As high schools held their region track and field meets this past spring, Bulloch County schools stood head and heels above the pack. Of the eight county squads — boys and girls’ teams from Bulloch Academy, Portal, Southeast Bulloch and Statesboro — five claimed region championships, along with plenty of impressive performances at the state level.
As spring has turned to summer, it’s becoming evident that the local track and field talent isn’t limited to the high school level.
For the last eight years, children aged 8-18 have been able to spend their summers honing their running, leaping and throwing skills as part of the Running in Extreme Zones (R.I.E.Z.) non-profit track and field club.
“This is a great program for kids of all ages,” coach Carl Lovett said. “We have kids who really get into it and excel in some events. Even for kids who are just looking for something to do during the summer, what you do in track and field keeps you in shape for a lot of different sports.”
The program enjoyed success in many events last summer and is sending a trio of competitors to the most prestigious competition in the nation next month.
Kimmley Johnson, 11, Dean Harper, 10, and Keshawn Johnson, 8, have all qualified for the AAU Junior Olympics. The Junior Olympics will be held August 3-9 at Dick Price Stadium at Norfolk State University in Norfolk, Va. and will feature that top 64 national qualifiers in each event.
Kimmley Johnson, who will start sixth grade at Langston Chapel Middle School following the Junior Olympics, will compete in the high jump after clearing 3-feet, 8-inches. Harper, who will begin fifth grade at Mattie Lively Elementary, qualified in a pair of events. Harper’s high jump of 3-feet, 6-inches and his time of 5:47 in the 1500-meter run were both good enough to qualify to take on the nation’s best. Keshawn Johnson will also be competing in a pair of events before starting third grade at Sallie Zetterower Elementary. Keshawn leapt 10-feet, 7-inches in the long jump and launched a shot put 17-feet, 4-inches to earn his national spots.
All of those marks were set at a regional meet in Taylors, S.C. in June.
Aside from the accomplishment of advancing to the Junior Olympics, each of the trio also set new personal records in qualifying – a goal that track and field athletes at all levels reach for in each meet.
“I know the kids are excited,” Lovett said. “It’s a great achievement to get to this level. They work hard and they deserve this chance.”
The kids have earned their way in, but the organization is still looking for some assistance in getting them up to Virginia to compete. The team is looking to raise $2,500 to cover travel expenses for its athletes. R.I.E.Z. will be selling fish, chicken and barbeque sandwiches on Aug. 1 at the Midtown Bar and Grill in order to raise money and will also be accepting donations for the cause. For more information, email email@example.com
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.