Anthony “A.J.” James has coached thousands of track and field athletes over the past 20 years, including his fair share of national champions.
James’ work has been recognized many times with awards on the local, state and national levels.
The most recent honor bestowed on James – a University City resident and head coach of the Charlotte Flights youth track and field program – may be his greatest validation yet.
USA Track and Field selected James to be a member of the coaching and medical staff that will accompany 42 athletes from the United States at the IAAF World Youth Championships July 10-14 in Donetsk, Ukraine. More than 140 countries are scheduled to be represented at the prestigious biannual event.
James was notified of his selection in April. He has traveled all over the U.S. for national championship meets, but this is the first time track and field will take him out of the country.
Officially, James is an assistant manager on the staff, meaning he has logistical responsibilities, such as making sure the team’s athletes report for their events at the correct times. Unofficially, James is also the staff’s assistant coach for the three jumping events: high jump, long jump and triple jump.
“I’m excited about having the opportunity to see the rest of the world with these 16- and 17-year-old athletes,” said James, “and seeing how other teams handle themselves, learning their philosophies. I love taking everything in.”
James, 52, is the Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation Department’s athletic coordinator for track and field. He coordinates track and field programs, camps, clinics and training opportunities.
In 1991, James was one of the founding members of the Charlotte Flights, which consists of athletes ages 5 to 17. The program expanded rapidly and has more than 300 members.
The Flights participated as an AAU member through 2005, until they switched their affiliation to USA Track and Field. Through USATF, James is a Level III coach, the organization’s highest level of certification.
In 2005, the National Association of County Parks and Recreation Officials recognized him as the Outstanding Volunteer of the Year.
Last November, Flights president Alvin Woods encouraged James to apply to be one of the Team USA coaches for this month’s Ukraine games. Knowing that high school coaches are usually selected for the staff, Woods thought James’ credentials as a respected club coach might work in his favor.
Submitted with the application to USATF were several letters of recommendation from college coaches in North Carolina, including Charlotte 49ers head coach Bob Olesen. At first, James thought he might get picked when he attended the USATF National Youth Indoor Track and Field Championships in Prince George’s County, Md., and heard that “someone from North Carolina” was a finalist.
For his selection, USATF Youth Division chair Lionel Leach presented a plaque to James at a Flights-sponsored meet at Charlotte’s Johnson C. Smith University in May.
“A.J.’s selection has really helped Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and all of North Carolina,” said Woods. “In the past, the talk (about track and field) was always about Florida and California.
“Charlotte and North Carolina have become a track-and-field hotbed. Other programs in the state have gotten stronger. We have produced youth that are potential collegiate athletes.”
James’ first responsibilities as a Team USA staff member was to attend the team’s trials June 25-26 in Evansville, Ill. The team was selected there, then headed to Chicago for a few days of training. The team was scheduled to fly out of Chicago on July 4.