When Will Stanley held his first Concord Rockets practice three years ago, only three athletes attended. Two of them were his sons.
By the end of the 2012 inaugural season, the local youth track and field program had more than 40 participants, a number it maintains today.
More importantly to Stanley is that the program’s mission has remained true: to provide Cabarrus County with a “home-grown” track and field program that feeds prepared athletes into the local middle and high schools.
Sanctioned by youth track and field’s two major bodies, Concord Rockets athletes have participated in AAU and USATF national championships. On July 31-Aug. 7, the Rockets will compete in the AAU Junior Olympic Games national meet at Norfolk, Va.
The Rockets are open to boys and girls, ages 8-18. Stanley and six assistant coaches specialize in sprints, long distance running, jumps and throws. The team practices at Cox Mill High, where Stanley serves as a head track and field coach.
Jasmine Cox, a rising senior at Cox Mill, is an original Rocket. Now 16, she joined the Rockets as an eighth grader.
“I really enjoy this program,” Cox said. “It’s personalized for us. It’s a small team so he can really help us a lot. I think he cares about all of us equally. Other track clubs that have larger teams, I think he helps us more than that.”
A sprinter, Cox was runner of the meet at this year’s Cabarrus County Championships and she was sprinter of the year at the South Piedmont 3A Conference meet. At the 3A state championship meet, Cox finished eighth in the 200-meter dash and 11th in the 100-meter dash. Cox also was a member of the 400-meter relay and 800-meter relay teams that respectively placed seventh and fifth.
In addition to sprinting, Cox is one of the Rockets’ experienced javelin throwers. Last year, the Rockets had five javelin throwers qualify for the AAU Junior Olympics.
“We’ve had decent javelin throwers from the little guys and the big guys,” said Stanley. “It’s not a high school (or middle school) event in North Carolina. We try to go to various venues so they can compete.”
Thirteen-year-old Allyson Halbach placed 13th in javelin in the 11-12-year-old age group. She’s a rising eighth-grader at J.N. Fries Magnet Middle but competes in track and field for Concord Middle, which would be her home school, because Fries does not have an athletic program.
“Throwing javelin is unique,” Halbach said. “I like to be different. It’s fun and challenging. It makes me think a little bit.”
Halbach is also one of the Rockets’ best long-distance runners, another area of strength for the program. Halbach finished 24th at nationals in the 3,000 meters last year and 30th in the 1,500 meters.
The middle school age group makes up most of the Rockets roster. Twelve of the Rockets’ 42 athletes are in the 11-12-year-old age group.
Donovan Stanley is Will Stanley’s son, who was one of the program’s original members. He throws the javelin and is a rising sophomore at Cox Mill.
“We’ve really reached out,” Donovan said. “A lot of other people have joined. It shifted. We used to have a lot of high school kids. Now we’re a really big team of small kids, like sixth and seventh graders.”
The Rockets are trying to appeal to youth through the Odell Recreation Association, with which it has a partnership. Odell also organizes teams and leagues in baseball, football, basketball, softball, soccer and cheerleading.
“It helps get the word out,” Will Stanley said. “Odell has a pretty good reputation in Cabarrus County as being a well-rounded organization. Our purpose is to give Cabarrus County something that is homegrown. My kids feed into Northwest Cabarrus High School, Robinson, Cox Mill, A.L. Brown, Concord.
“I feel we’re making Cabarrus County better because they’re feeding into their programs.”
For more information, visit www.concordrockets.com.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at email@example.com.