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Council approves money, ‘Half-Steppers’ ready to run in New Orleans

on July 27, 2011

After a lengthy debate Tuesday, the City Council voted to come up with $17,000 out of the current year’s budget to send a squad of Richmond kids to a national track meet in New Orleans next week.

Richmond is sending a track team to the competition, but it almost didn’t happen.

Coaches for the team, called the “Richmond Half-Steppers,” appealed to an initially skeptical council for the money, pleading that the young athletes would be devastated if they were unable to compete in the meet. “We just don’t have enough funds to make this trip,” said track coach Johnny Holmes.

Holmes and another coach, Eric Avery, said they had about $7,000 on hand after paying an $810 entrance fee, all monies that they raised throughout the year. While they were able to raise several thousands from private donors, the coaches said they were hurt by rising airfare prices as the departure date drew nearer.

If not for an immediate donation from the council, Avery and Holmes said 18 local kids who had worked all year would not be able to make the trip. “Each day I check the airlines and the prices are going up,” Avery said. “I need $17,000.”

The track club was started in 1967 when a group of girls at Kennedy High School asked and Holmes, then a student-supervisor, to organize a girls’ track team. Holmes agreed to coach the girls but said he would not tolerate any “half-stepping.”

Today’s team is composed of 10 boys and eight girls, ages 5 to 16, all of whom come from poor or working-class families in Richmond.

The event is the Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games at Tad Gormley Stadium in New Orleans, scheduled to run from July 30 to Aug. 6. Billed as the nation’s largest multi-sport youth athletics event, nearly 20,000 athletes from across the U.S. will compete.

Councilmembers and Mayor Gayle McLaughlin questioned Avery’s request for $17,000 to send the team to the competition, noting that the Richmond contingent would include 10 adults – four coaches and six chaperones — in addition to the 18 youth athletes. “The city barely made its budget,” said Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, whom Avery had thanked earlier for having made a private donation to the team. “I don’t think we need to send that many adults, if it’s really about the kids.”

Avery responded that it was important to send 10 adults to ensure the children’s safety. “Coach Eric is about being safe,” Avery said.

The council’s interest in the Half-Steppers began with a report delivered by coaches at the July 19 meeting in which the young athletes were extolled for their determination and the team appealed to the public for donations to attend the Junior Olympics event. After that presentation, Councilman Nat Bates moved to propose an agenda item on a future meeting to explore funding options for the team.

But Finance Department officials wrote in staff report that the city’s budget had little wiggle room. “The financial impact related to this item should not exceed $13,500. This is an unbudgeted expense and will have a negative impact on the budget,” the report read.

Tuesday’s was laden with proposals to approve financing for a slew of other pieces of city business, including a $2 million project for road repair and tens of thousands in contracts for various consultants.

After several residents scolded the council for funding other initiatives, but not the track team, Councilman Tom Butt interjected. “This has gone on far too long,” Butt said before ticking off three separate agenda items and proposing to cut thousands from each – equaling the $17,000 the track team requested.

McLaughlin objected that Butt was proposing to cut money from contracts that had already been entered. City Manager Bill Lindsay stepped in. “Let’s delegate to staff to find a source,” Lindsay said.

Butt called that approach “irresponsible.”

“This is a zero sum game,” Butt said. “Some other program will be hurt” if the council approved $17,000 for the half-steppers without identifying corresponding cuts, Butt said.

McLaughlin motioned to vote on giving the Half-Steppers the full $17,000 they requested, with a directive that Lindsay’s staff find places in the budget to make corresponding cuts, and Councilman Jeff Ritterman urged the coaches to work with the city to hold fundraisers after the team returns to recoup some of the money.

Councilman Jim Rogers said the city had generally followed a precedent of granting no more than $10,000 for such event-related requests. “I will not be voting for this motion,” Rogers said, adding that he would have approved a request for $10,000.

Beckles also expressed concern, saying the council must adhere to its budget and cautioning that such a move might invite more requests. “Anybody else who’s coming [for a request for funds], I will have to vote no,” Beckles said.

The measure passed 5-1-1, with Butt voting against and Rogers abstaining.

After the vote, coach Holmes smiled broadly. “We can make it now, we can go and showcase our kids,” Holmes said. “I have a feeling of relief.”


  1. Ed on July 27, 2011 at 6:29 pm

    Wow five votes! They weren’t half stepping when requesting $17,000 from the council and got $ 7,000 over the normal. That’s outstanding diplomacy or something along those lines. I hope this really was about enhancing the children lives of Richmond.I’m all for a better Richmond and it starts with students, teachers, parents, local community/city councils and school boards. Go Richmond Go run on to …

    • eric on July 28, 2011 at 11:29 pm

      As a coach for the Half-Steppers, I realize that a number of people won’t agree with spending city funds on a sporting event.
      But if you could see the effort and dedication these young people have put forth and the looks on their faces, knowing that they achieved the goal that they set for themselves, is a beautiful site. We as mentors need to show them that their hard work has a positive payoff.
      These types of rewards go alot farther than a trip to New Orleans.Society as a whole will benefit in the long run.
      Be proud, for them. (THEY ARE CHILDREN )

  2. nojustice on July 28, 2011 at 1:44 am

    Way to save face McLaughlin she magically appears after the dust has settled “shakin hands and holdin babies”. No offense to the halfsteppers but with everything that’s going on in Richmond right now that $17,000 would have been better spent on ways to fight this crime.

    • Coco94804 on July 28, 2011 at 11:06 am

      Being a Parent/Coach of one of the kids that run for the Halfsteppers track club.I say it was a Good gesture & a great cause to support on behalf of the “City of Richmond” I am a single parent with 4 kids, Yes! I do work (@ The Soical Security Admin here in Richmond) but, it’s still hard to try & pay bills AND save money for a costly trip like this one. I don’t like to ask anybody for anything & as I was watching the meeting on T.V. I was getting really upset. I even told the coach my daughter was not going to Attend because I don’t like coming across as a BEGGAR & that’s how it was Portrayed to me (as if we were begging). I have been with this track team since my oldest daughter was 8 years old (she’s 15 now) & they have had their up & their downs but, that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve help when need it. The trip to New Orleans will be very expensive; the money the City provided along still will not be enough (but we are grateful for it). No one complains when the city waste money every year on meaningless things but they complain when they give money for a GOOD CAUSE “By the way, Crime rates are still going UP” I am 33 years old been living in Richmond all my life & the same Crime that was here before I was born is going to be the same Crime here well after I leave. It does not seem like it is going to change, With MONEY!!!!! It will take the whole City to change!

      • nojustice on July 28, 2011 at 1:03 pm

        True indeed and $17,000 spent on a track meet when Richmond is already in debt yeah that makes perfect sense. Folks are missin the issue these politicians and shit could care less about sending your kids to track meets. Their doin damage control rite now murders in broad day brazen acts of violence lets take the heat off with this track meet situation. All so they can maintain their spot in their political realm. Much respect for them kids they’re on the right path they gotta chance. We gotta do sumthin 4 these young black males because I don’t want my auntie to be a victim walkin from the grocery store.

  3. Coco94804 on July 28, 2011 at 3:05 pm

    if the Columbians would not have brought CRACK COCAINE! to America, We would not have these problems. These Kids are OFF the HOOK because they dont have any guidance. Dont blame the mothers & fathers that are trying to prevent theirs from getting caught UP! or the city for HELPING. Blame the DopeFiend parents for having crack babies with No structure. I don’t think the City is trying to take any weight off their back by supporting this track team (if that’s what you ment). The politicians dont have to give 2 flying F**ks about mine, because there Mother has been there ALWAYS! They are not Guaranteed a spot on the City Council Just because they gave to a group of kids….Get real!

    • mORenita on August 10, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      Coco I think you are taking the other comments personal because you are a parent/coach of Half-steppers. Your last comment was also a rant and out of line. 1. ColOmbians were not responsible for CRACK. And not every child who has a parent with an addiction becomes a criminal or a product of their environment..I am proof of that. There are also kids who come from a good home and still act a fool. No one is saying that the money didnt go to a good cause. But it was over the normal limit and timing does seem a little convinient considering what a bad month July was. Just saying…..

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