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Half-Steppers take break from track, hike all over New Orleans

on August 4, 2011

After a tough day of competition Tuesday, the Half-Steppers stepped out into New Orleans to enjoy some fun and relaxation in the city.

“Today was a good day to step back a little bit and enjoy this beautiful city, clear our heads a little bit,” said Coach Eric Avery during a telephone interview from the team’s hotel Tuesday night.

The day started around mid-morning, Avery said, and the agenda was simple.

“We set out to check out the French Quarter and the Riverwalk,” Avery said.

The 10 boys and eight girls ages 6 to 16, slowed down to take in the sites, Avery said.

The Half-Steppers are a local track team established by coach Johnny Holmes in the late 1960s, initially as an option for girls to be involved in track.

Today, it is a local institution in Richmond. The City Council voted last month to give the team $17,000 to fund its trip to the Junior Olympics in New Orleans.

Tuesday was a tough day of competition. Half-Steppers came in first and second place in their respective races with personal best times, but it wasn’t good enough to qualify for the final events.

Robert Freeman, 7, and Wayne Corbin, 8, came in first and second, respectively, in their 400-yard sprint heats Tuesday, but their times weren’t quite good enough to advance.

But on Wednesday, none of that weighed on what was a day of relaxation and sightseeing, Avery said.

The kids rode horse-drawn carriages and checked out street musicians and dancers.

Micheala Hall, 9, was particularly taken by the New Orleans wildlife, Avery said.

“Micheala had never seen a mule before,” Avery said. “The driver let her pet the mule gently on its head, and I was too, and pretty soon the mule laid its head on my shoulder … (Micheala) thought that was really great.”

The team had lunch in the French Quarter at a seafood restaurant, but not all the kids were keen on the local Cajun fare.

“Robert (Freeman) wanted pizza,” Avery said, laughing. “All the way down here in New Orleans and he wants pizza! Next thing you know, some of the other kids wanted hamburgers.”

Later that night, the team retreated back to its stable of Motel 6 rooms. The team also has two rooms at an adjacent motel that provides kitchen facilities, Avery said.

“We got our little system here where we prepare home-cooked meals for the kids,” Avery said. “It saves us some money.”

Today, the Half-Steppers have no races scheduled, so the coaches plan to take them to a local New Orleans park to work on timing for the relay races, which feature crucially important baton transfers.

Friday should be the biggest day of the Olympics, and the team’s best chance for medals. The team will run out its four vaunted 4×100 relay teams, two boys and two girls’ teams. Also, Tyrone Morgan, the team’s fleet 16-year-old, will compete in the individual 400.

“The kids can’t wait to get in there on Friday,” Avery said.

| Follow the team from start to finish.

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