As parents dropped off their middle-school girls one by one outside the Lowe's YMCA, the girls hugged happily, giggled and chattered nonstop as they formed a circle on the field outside.
It wasn't long before these girls were all business as coach Kenny Hazlett joined the group and explained what the agenda was for the day's lesson of Girls on the Track.
This group of 16 girls has met twice a week at the Lowe's YMCA since September. They will end the session at the Girls on the Run 5K race Dec. 10 in Statesville.
All Iredell County participants in Girls on the Run and Girls on the Track (a division of Girls on the Run for middle-school-age girls) are invited to enter the race.
During practice, coach Hazlett explained that the girls were going to complete a practice 5K so that they have an idea of how far they will have to run in the actual race.
Hazlett explained that each of the girls must learn to run at her own pace. The girls are not in competition with each other, he said, but only with themselves.
"We have seen girls improve a great deal from season to season," said Hazlett. "Last season it took over 60 minutes for the whole group to complete a two-mile run, and this season we already have everyone coming in in under 40 minutes."
Even though the running is an important part of Girls on the Track, Hazlett said, the most important part of the program is the life skills taught during each session.
"Girls on the Track deals with a lot of female issues," said Hazlett. "We talk about bullying, peer pressure, drugs and alcohol as well as premarital issues."
The program welcomes new girls each semester, but it also has many girls who come back season after season.
One is Shelby Brown, daughter of Wis and Becky Brown of Mooresville. Shelby is a seventh-grader at Mount Mourne IB School. She has been a part of Girls on the Run and Girls on the Track since she was in fifth grade.
"I started in the program because I knew some friends that had done it, and I wanted to give it a try," said Shelby.
Shelby credits Girls on the Track Brown with helping her make a smooth transition into middle school life.
"It (Girls on the Track) makes you feel good about yourself. Being around positive people creates a positive energy," she said. "I have gotten the opportunity to meet new people and make a lot of friends through this program."
Shelby also said Girls on the Track has had a positive influence on her community.
"The girls feel good about themselves and take that into their community, so that they can then empower other people to feel better about themselves," Shelby said.
Back at the Lowe's YMCA, Shelby was getting ready to start a practice run with her teammates.
Before leaving, she shared her own personal goal: "I think one day I would like to be a Girls on the Track coach and help motivate other girls."