Richmond Grinders prepare for meet in Berkeley
on May 31, 2013
Kiome Davis of Grant Elementary School wasn’t convinced she’d like track. She didn’t like training because it was too hard. On her third day of conditioning she said she heard her teammate use bad language. “I thought [the Richmond Grinders] was one of those bad teams that cusses a lot,” the nine-year-old said. She was panting from sprinting 200 meters in khaki pants and a white short-sleeve polo shirt. “[But] now that I got to know everybody—it’s good. We [train] to make sure we beat our other times.”
At Monday’s late afternoon practice at Contra Costa College, Davis and 11 other Richmond schoolchildren sprinted across the blue track. One-by-one, sprinters took off as assistant head coach Tracy Anderson shouted ‘Go!’
One of the kids didn’t make it to the finish line and Anderson pulled him aside and asked him to take the sprint again. The kid ran back to the starting line. “That’s something they should live with for the rest of their life. When you start something, do your best and finish it—no matter what it is,” Anderson said.
All the sweat, and huffing and puffing is in preparation for this weekend’s 10th Annual Dr. Tommie Smith Track Meet held at UC Berkeley’s Edwards Stadium. The meet attracts teams from all over the Bay Area and is a qualifier for the Reno AAU Western Championships.
Smith, who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, is a former world-class sprinter and civil rights advocate. In 1968, after winning a gold medal at the Olympic games in Mexico City, he became famous for raising his fist, gloved in black leather, as a protest gesture while the National Anthem was being played.
Over the phone this week, Smith said he hoped the Berkeley track meet, which is sponsored by 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, would encourage youngsters to strive to achieve. “This is more than just a track meet—it’s a festive affair,” he said. “A lot of young kids don’t have festive occasions during the year where they can feel good about themselves. Sociologically [the track meet] is empowering.”
Richmond Grinders, a parent-run afterschool program, is in its second year and is steadily growing said head coach Dedan Di Jaga. “We started out with three runners, and now we have a total of 33,” he said.
Aside from hoping to rank in the top three at this year’s Berkeley event, Di Jaga said just getting kids to appreciate their bodies is a win for the Grinders. “We [also] encourage them not to eat greasy, sugary foods, and not to drink sodas. By being more conscious about what they put into their bodies the young athletes will better understand how food is transformed into energy, and that’s what helps their body run and produce effective results,” he said.
As Monday’s practice wound down and the runners got ready to go home. Di Jaga said it was a blessing to coach such talented and well-behaved kids, even if, at times there is some light cussing. “They want to learn and they’re very competitive. My job is easy—once that light switch goes on, I can go sit down and retire,” Di Jaga said.
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