MIDLOTHIAN — To Arlene Sutton and the coaches of the Midlothian-based Momentum Youth Track Club (MYTC), Ellis County summer track is about more than medals and momentary fame.
It's about helping youth bridge the gaps between middle school to high school, high school to college and college to life.
The success of the MYTC during the July 30 Junior Olympic games in Humble, Texas was only the first domino to fall for the 39 children in her care this season, Sutton said.
"Track and field is such a great springboard sport that we use as a platform to propel these kids," she continued, noting community involvement from coaches throughout Midlothian and participation from nearly every corner of Ellis County. "It propels them in life, not just in track and field. It's a confidence and team builder and it instills great leadership skills, determination and work ethic. It's hard to come around here day in and day out and beat this ground."
The MYTC group of nine competed against more than 15,000 athletes on the national stage of the Junior Olympics, gathering more than a baker's dozen of medals — including two by Andrei Fuentes in the 200-meter hurdles and triple jump.
Though nine qualified for the Humble meet, it required the teamwork of 39 to get them there.
Fuentes, Jawaun Chappell, Sydney and Jenna Mann, Sara Murdock, Andria Harris, Joshua and Matthew Mullinix, Caden Naizer, Lorento Ramirez, Jalen smith, Madison and Jayton DeLeon, Hunter Price, Daemon Rodriguez, Dallas and Tyler Rose, Chloe Ahlstedt, Emma Garrison, Noah Kincade, Jayden Blakney, Clayton Boyce, Alexis Cunning, Ethan Hill, Angela Tometi, Michael Huff, Aaliyah Bivins, Kylie Fitgerald, Tanner Henderson, McElhanon, Christine Mills, Viktorya Rodriguez Camden Staples, Jeremiah Waxler, Emily Little, Christian Shaw, Jacob Bowers, Kyra Stepney all had a part to play in the symphony that became the MYTC Junior Olympic success.
Even current Midlothian High School speedster and wide receiver Tayt Kinsey played a vital role in the organization as both an athlete and a mentor of youth.
"They are mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually strong," Sutton said. "When they put themselves against Metroplex talent they are running against some of the best in the state and they compete well. It helps them immeasurably and bleeds into so many different areas of their lives."
She employs the knowledge of Michael De La Santos, Michael Henderson, Anthony DeLeon, Ryan Price and Tammy Rodriguez, coaches who have run track at the collegiate or professional levels or those who were led to Sutton by their passion for positively affecting the county's youth.
"I've learned a lot this season — how to run and pace yourself," said Naizer, a 10-year-old 800- and 1500-meter distance runner. "I've become a lot better, too. I started running a 5:30 mile at the beginning of the season and now I'm running a 5:18. We know this is a second home to us and that we're all family. When we grow, we grow together. Nobody gets left behind."
It's not just Midlothian's youth who benefits from the knowledge of the MYTC coaches, either. They regularly welcome athletes from Ellis County cities of Waxahachie, Red Oak, Maypearl and Ferris as well as those outside of the county like Venus, Alvarado, Mansfield, Granbury, Grand Prarie and Cedar Hill.
Sutton, her staff and the young runners spent more than 150 hours between mid-March and the end of June — not including all day Saturday track meets each weekend — honing their form, skill and discipline on grounds of the Midlothian Sports Complex.
"We pretty much start at the end of the school's track season. It's about a week or two before the high school seasons end," De La Santos said. "It rolls right over. Some of these kids have been running since school and came right out to us. It's called summer track, but really there's a catch to it. It really starts in the spring.
"It's not just about track. We give them life lessons so they can push harder in life and always remember to never give up. In college or in any job, you're always going to have obstacles in front of you. It's just like out here. In reality, you're competing against people for better pay and a better life and you have to be disciplined enough to succeed in those situations. Those lessons begin here."
The MYTC is a competitive track and field organization dedicated to training and developing boys and girls between the ages of 10 and 18 years old and serves the Southwestern Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Region 12 Dallas-Fort Worth area.
According to the MYTC mission statement, the organization's vision is to develop and empower young boys and girls through the sport of track and field, teach fundamentals and develop individual skills and abilities and strive for excellence in life endeavors on and off the track. Its top priority and emphasis are focused toward individual improvement rather than placement in individual events.
De La Santos said the success of athletes like Nizer and the growth of those like Garrison impressed him the most, as well as their ability to make momentous strides despite rocky starts to the season.
That individual improvement, however, doesn't only extend to the organization's able-bodied athletes. It also applies to athletes like Chappell, Michael's son and a 7-year old who was born deaf in both ears and hears with the help of two specialized hearing aids and a cochlear implant.
"He's truly the heart-and-soul of the team," Sutton said, allowing a grin to flow across her usually sternly chiseled features as she watched Juwaun run from player to player and gesture wildly amid smiles and laughter from his teammates. "There are times in practice when he's not there, our athletes will say, 'why does practice feel weird today? Oh, that's right. Jawaun's not here.' Those kids rally around him and when there's a close out to practice, we already know it's his time."
"With my boy being deaf, it surprised me he could run in a straight line since his equilibrium's off," De La Santos added. "When it came down to the final district race, he wasn't last and was in the mix. He can actually run in a straight line. He finished [No. 25] out of 50 kids. It's really cool because I've known of other athletes being either partially deaf — like Marshawn Lynch — or completely deaf. I knew that he could do it, but watching it in person was amazing to me.
"Emma's form when I got her was completely off, but now she can say she's been in the Junior Olympics. That's something not every kid her age can say."
The MYTC doesn't just jump to the Junior Olympic competitive level, though. They compete in district, regional and Junior Olympics qualifying meets against more than 50 teams throughout the Metroplex.
Of the 39 members of the MYTC that competed this summer, nine qualified for the Junior Olympics. Nineteen athletes qualified for the AAU Regionals Meet.
Sutton said the lessons learned on the blistering tracks during their spring and summer seasons extends far past the reward of getting a medal, it reaches into and touches the soul of every athlete. She added that fire that resides in that pride not only stokes the fires of success and bridges the gap in the present and lays the foundation for resilient men and women that comprise the county's future.
"They understand though track is a team sport, their worst enemy is themselves. They know it's just them and the finish line and they're the ones that can go out and be game changers," Sutton said. "We have to put them through collegiate and high school workouts because they're asking for more and they know they don't want to peak out. There's some who want to work more than the three or four days a week we do work. It's kind of funny. We hear stories about when they go visit Two-a-Days practices and them being fine. They're not gasping for air like everybody else.
"Every year they impress me because they willfully sacrifice their summers to come out here in the Texas heat from 8 a.m. in the morning until the lights out and practice after practice with the sole goal of becoming a little better every day and giving it all they have."
Khris is the Midlothian Mirror sports editor. Follow him on Twitter at @Khris2MarionWNI. Contact the sports desk at 469-517-1454 and on Twitter by using #MirrorSportsNB in tweets!