University City

Charlotte Flights youth track and field program hosts meets at UNC Charlotte

T’Sheila Mungo has competed for the Charlotte 49ers track and field team for the past three years. But when she started training and participating in home meets in 2012, it wasn’t the first time she ran at the Irwin Belk Track and Field Center.

Years earlier, she was a member of the Charlotte Flights youth track and field program, a partner with Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. The Flights have hosted meets at UNC Charlotte since 2000.

This year’s youth track and field season is fast approaching and the Flights will be hosting four meets between May and June. The Flights will kickoff their season on May 3 at Irwin Belk Track and Field Center with the Charlotte Flights Developmental Meet, its largest meet of the year.

Flights president Alvin Woods says the developmental meet drew more than 1,800 athletes last year at Johnson C. Smith University. It is open to youth from preschool age all the way through high school.

Other Flights meets at the Irwin Belk Center this year are the Middle School Track and Field Championships on May 17 and the Jim Law Invitational on June 13-15. Additionally, the Flights will be the host team for the Powerade State Games track and field events June 6-8.

“UNC Charlotte is a good venue because of its layout: the track, the facilities, the parking,” said Woods. “Over the years, they built the mondo (polyurethane) surface. It’s very fast.

“It comes down to relationships. Over the years we’ve built a good relationship with (Charlotte) coach (Robert) Olesen and (athletic director) Judy Rose. We’ve shown that we’re very respectful people and they’ve given us the opportunity to host these events”

The relationship started in 2000 when the Flights hosted its first Jim Law Invitational. The event is named for the former Johnson C. Smith professor and senior track and field world record holder, who was also a supporter of the Flights. He passed away in 1996, but his wife and children have been involved in the event since its inception.

The Jim Law Invitational, which is celebrating its 15th year, is a combination event for youth and masters athletes. The masters events, which are open to anyone 30-and-older, will be held on June 13. Woods says that participation usually fluctuates between 50 and 100 masters athletes.

Youth events are open to members of USATF, AAU, or unattached runners. Qualifying standards must be met for each event. The meet drew 800 participants last year.

The Flights are helping host the Powerade State Games for the second straight year. The Games are an Olympic-style collection of games that will be held May 31-June 29 in the Charlotte area.

This year is also the second year for the Flights’ Middle School Championships. It is for middle school-aged competitors but they do not compete for their schools in the meet.

Each year at the meet, the Flights honor a local middle school coach who has supported track and field. This year’s honoree is Dunbar Austin, a longtime coach at J.T. Williams Middle School. Last year, Kenneth Waldron, who taught and coached football and track and field at Quail Hollow Middle School from 1974 to 2006, was recognized.

The Flights’ first Developmental Meet was held in 1993, two years after the program was founded. It was held at West Charlotte High and included a mere 300 athletes.

Since then, the Flights have also conducted it at Johnson C. Smith, which is where the program holds weekly practices. Athletes will come from as far as Georgia for the Developmental Meet, Woods said.

Olesen says that the Charlotte 49ers’ relationship with the Flights benefits both programs. The Flights get to use the Irwin Belk Center and Flights volunteers help with timing and results at 49ers track and field meets.

“Their mission is similar to ours in promoting the sport at the youth level and their events here expose our facility and the campus to many young athletes and their families not only from the Charlotte area but also from outside the region due to the size of the meets,” Olesen said.