The 5 North track and field league is about to reach the pinnacle of its second season, with another group of young athletes ready to go after national-level accolades later this month.
Coach K.T. Ransom, founder of the league, had 25 of the 165 athletes in his league qualify for the AAU Junior Olympics in Ypsilanti, Michigan, just west of Detroit, from July 28 to Aug. 4.
Though he can’t send them all, Ransom expects that the six athletes he will accompany to Michigan will make a big impression at the national championships.
They include a girls relay team that won gold medals at regional qualifying meets, a gold medalist in the 8-and-under boys 1,500-meter run and a three-event qualifier in the 14-and-under boys distance races.
“We have a little more experience this year. We have returners this year, which is good in helping building up the program,” Ransom said.
The number of participants in his league is about the same as last year, but 25 athletes qualified for the AAU Junior Olympics in 51 events.
“Overall this year I would consider it a success. We had more kids qualify. We have more kids going to the junior Olympics and more kids competing in the postseason.”
5 North is a spring league that includes four teams, the Tracy Hornets and Roadrunners, the Mountain House Broncos and, new this year, the Manteca Hawks. The teams have meets locally during their season and finish with a championship meet before they head to postseason meets.
The biggest events so far include the AAU Region 22 National Qualifier, June 14-17 at Riverbank High School, and the AAU West Coast National Championships, June 30 to July 2 at Reed High School in Reno.
Most of the athletes who qualified for the national meet made the cut at the Riverbank meet, where they had to be among the top six in the track events or the top five for field events and relays. Some also qualified at the Reno meet, where they had to make the top eight in their events.
Girls pursue gold in relays
Among the athletes going to Michigan are 10-year-old twin sisters Sophia and Scarlette McIntyre, who will start sixth grade at Traina School in August. It will be the second national junior Olympics meet for the duo.
They are part of a relay team that won the 4x100 meter race in the 12-and-under girls division in Riverbank and the 12U girls 4x400 race in Reno. Their relay teammates are Kyrrahlynn Dowell, 10, and Ciella Seals, 11.
Sophia said she’s more confident this year based on her experience at last year’s junior Olympics national meet in Texas.
“It was very scary (last year) because I had a lot of competition there, but I think this year I can try better since I know a little bit more,” she said, noting that she has two more teammates for support in addition to her sister.
“It really is nice, because I know that all of my teammates can do it, and they can help me encourage myself. Instead of independently, I feel like I have more confidence in winning the races with my teammates.”
Scarlette said she learned a little about technique when she ran among national competitors.
“I’m really happy we won the four-by-four relay (in Reno), because that’s a very tough race,” she said, adding that she’s more confident running the 4x100 relay. “It’s really, really fun to be with my team too, so I like doing both relays. We encourage each other to keep pushing.”
Their teammates are preparing for their first national junior Olympics. Ciella, who will be a seventh-grader at Poet-Christian School, is new to track and field but experienced in competitive soccer.
“I think it will be very exciting for the runners who made it due to their hard work and determination, and I’m very excited to go with my relay team, especially traveling across the United States,” she said. “We all train extremely hard. We all have a mental and physical connection to each other.”
Kyrrahlynn, who is going into fifth grade at Central School, said she’s nervous but confident as well. Like her teammates, she qualified to compete in individual events in addition to the relays. She is training for the 80-meter hurdles, an event where she won the gold medal in Riverbank.
Her coach said the hurdles are one of the toughest events for a young athlete to pick up, but Kyrrahlynn said she caught on fast.
“I just jumped over them and learned. It’s one of my best events,” she said. “It’s fast and it’s easy and I like how competitive it is.”
Go the distance
Joining them on the trip is 8-year-old Luca Pedrola, who starts third grade next month at Traina School. He is a double-qualifier in two distance events. He won the 1,500 at Riverbank and placed second in that event at Reno, and he was third in the 800 at Riverbank and seventh in Reno.
It will be his first junior Olympics national meet — and his first airplane trip across the U.S. — though he qualified for the national junior Olympics in cross-country in the fall.
“It’s a lot of excitement for me,” he said, adding that he’s eager to see how fast the kids from the rest of the country can run.
“When I think about my competition, I think that they’re going to be really fast, but if they’re going to be really fast, I’m thinking that I’m going to be even faster.”
The other Michigan-bound athlete is Rison Pereira, an incoming freshman at Kimball High. He is a cross-country runner and qualified for three distance events in the 14-and-under boys division at the Riverbank meet: the 800 meters, the 1,500 and the 3,000.
Love for the sport
Even with just a handful of his athletes going to national competition, Ransom said he has met his ultimate goal of building interest in track and field, with the hope that his athletes continue competing through high school.
He sees kids learning to compete in basic athletic competition. Along the way, he hopes to see them learn to enjoy the effort of training and, ultimately, their top effort on race day.
“Most other sports, to punish kids, they make them run,” he said. “Running should be for love, to get in shape, to be fit, to be ready to play. Not as a punishment.”
He added that the individual aspect of track and field makes athletes 100 percent accountable for their own efforts and results.
“Either you make the decision to do your best or you don’t,” he said. “It makes the kids a lot stronger mentally, because they have to gut it out.
“Not only can you do anything physically, you can do anything mentally, because you made yourself push through.”