Benjamin Black likes to race. But even more so, he likes to run.
As a member of the Charlotte Heat youth track and field program, Black, a 9-year-old Eastfield resident, will compete at the AAU Junior Olympic Nationals on July 31-Aug. 7 in Norfolk, Va.
Competing in the 9-10-year-old age group, Black hopes to make amends for the disappointing finish he had at last year’s JO Nationals in Des Moines, Iowa.
In the 100 meters, his best event, Black was leading the race three-quarters in. He suddenly lost his balance, fell to the track, and recovered to finish eighth.
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“I just like running,” said Benjamin, who also plays football for the Mallard Creek Chargers youth program.
The son of Ben and Maria Black, both former college athletes, Benjamin is a rising fourth-grader at Highland Creek Elementary. His 13-year-old brother Benari and 5-year-old sister Bellamarie are first-year members of the Heat.
“He likes running all the time,” said Ben Black.
“Coming out of school, he likes to run,” added Maria, with Benjamin sitting in a chair beside her. “Going to the store, he runs through the parking lot. He’d be running now if we didn’t tell him to sit down.”
Benjamin became a Heat runner in 2013. At last year’s prestigious Jim Law Invitational meet, at UNC Charlotte, Benjamin won the 100-, 200-, and 400-meter races and was named the MVP of the 8-under age group.
At last year’s nationals, in addition to his eighth place finish in the 100 meters, Benjamin placed third in the 200 meters and fourth in the 400 meters. He has Charlotte Heat program records in the primary boys division (8-under) in all three events.
At this year’s Jim Law meet, on June 21-22, Benjamin finished first in the 100 meters in the 9-10-year-old age group even though he turned 9 on May 18. On May 30, at the Greenville Jets Invitational, Benjamin ran a personal record of 13.45 seconds in the 100 meters.
“The Heat program is excellent,” said Maria. “It’s very organized. It’s family-oriented. Everyone works as a team.”
The Heat finished first in the 9-10-year-old boys division and 9-10-year-old girls division at the Jim Law meet. The Heat’s 13-14-year-old girls and 17-18 boys placed second in their divisions.
This year, the Heat is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Most of those years, the program has been central to the University City area.
Founded by coach William Bullard, the Heat have practiced at Mallard Creek High for the last five years. Before that, the program trained at other Charlotte high schools, including Vance for one year.
During its first year, the Heat had 55 athletes. This season, the team has almost triple that number, with most of them living in the University City area.
“I wanted to build a program the kids could be excited about and something they could be proud of in the community,” said Bullard. “I just wanted to do more than just coach. I wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives and make an impact.”
In April, it held its 10th annual home meet, the Bring the Heat Invitational, at Rocky River High. Vincent Crisp, a 2010 honoree, recently graduated from North Mecklenburg and will run middle- and long-distance events for Texas Tech next year.
At last year’s Junior Olympic Nationals, Crisp finished third in the 17-18-year-old division in the 800- and 1,500-meter races. He was one of 43 Heat athletes to qualify, though only 15 attended because of the distance required to travel to the national meet.
Crisp and Benjamin Black were two of the Heat’s 13 academic all-Americans last year, for finishing in the top eight in their national events and for having a 3.0 grade point average or higher. Another was Akira Rhodes, a rising sophomore at Cox Mill High, who was the 14-year-old 100-meter hurdles national champion in 2014.
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.