Most track coaches look for speed and endurance from their teams. But for Skip Grant, the best training he can give his runners isn't measured just at the finish line.
Grant says he is most interested in "good citizens, good people who will be responsible and reliable young people."
And if the 42-year-old volunteer coach succeeds in finding those qualities, he thinks the first-place finishes eventually will follow.
I don't make demands in that way," Grant said. "I feel if they do work and if they are true to themselves, they can become national and international class athletes. I think in so many cases, the only reason they fall short is they haven't worked hard enough."
His Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) track club has had its share of national age-group contenders, perhaps more than any other club in the nation. Since 1974, fourteen members of the club, which has runners aged 7 through 17, have won a total of 41 individual national championships in Amateur Athletic Club (AAU) and Junior Olympic cross country and track competition.
His 10-11-year-old boys are three-time defending champions in Junior Olympic national cross country; his 14-15 boys won a national cross country title in 1975, and the CYO boys are the defending AAU national track and field crown-bearers.
"That is not the main goal of the club," Grant said. "It's just an added blessing. The philosophy is to get young people involved in wholesome activities, to get them involved in good health habits to lead them into a healthy lifetime of activity.
CYO gave Grant $2,000 to start the track program in 1973, and it pays for travel for Grant and his assistant coach, Pat Griffin, also a volunteer, to meets. Otherwise, travel expenses, which Grant estimates at more than $1,000 a year for each child, are borne by the parents of the approximately 60 children on the track team and 35 children on the cross country team.
"It's fantastic," said James O'Connor, father of Aileen O'Connor, CYO's most prominent runner. "We came up with the cash for her and let Skip Grant do the rest.
"I'll tell you, Skip Grant is just a fantastic person. He makes the decisions and we just keep our mouths shut . . . He puts his time in unselfishly and all he asks is that they give him the same respect. When he wants them to work, he expects them to work."
Grant does it with organization and the hard work he demands from his team. Since relinquishing his post as Washington Metropolitan CYO athletic director of Griffin in 1975, Grant has moved to St. Albans School at Massachusetts and Wisconsin Avenues NW, where he is pool director, swimming coach, cross country coach, and assistant track coach.
With the cooperation of St. Albans, Grant, of 1376 Locust Rd. NW, has combined his CYO workouts with the training schedule of the school's squads. As part of his training plan, he allows his older runners to chaperon groups of younger runners during distance practice. The chaperoned runs allow Grant to compensate for the inability of the two-man coaching staff to watch 35 to 60 kids.
But Grant, his runners, and their parents agree: the reason for the club's success on the track is hard work.
"I don't think I would have been as good a runner if I hadn't gotten with Mr. Grant," said 16-year-old Aileen O'Connor of 9232 Limestone Pl., College Park. "He just wants you to give all you can give, work hard and work with him. You always have to work hard to become good at something."
Aileen's work has paid off: She has won nine national championships since joining CYO in 1975.
Despite all her gold medals, O'Connor's best performance brought only a sixth place finish. In the national track and field championships June 6 in Los Angeles, O'Connor earned her sixth place in the senior women's 3,000 meter race with a 9:22 clocking - the fastest time ever run anywhere by a girl younger than 18.
"Mr. Grant always tells people that when I started I could hardly run," said Steven Washington, 15, of 4703 N. Capitol St. NE, who joined the club in the winter of 1974 and captured the national AAU 12-13 880-yard run with a U.S. record of 2:06. "You can't help but improve with the work we do. You'd have to be totally without talent."
The CYO program produces some interesting social situations with the age span among team members. Grant thinks this is an added benefit of the club. "One of the greatest things is at this age . . . teenagers resent, look down at younger kids," he said. "In our club, it's not unusual to have a nine-year-old having a friendly conversation with someone 15."
"I think they're all really super runners because they run almost as much as we do," Jill Haworth, 15, said of the younger competitors. "By the time they're our age, they'll probably be a whole lot better than us. They're all nice and since we're all running, we have a lot in common."
Haworth, of 12211 Rockledge Dr., Bowie, is the reigning national AAU 14-15 cross country, mile, and 800 meters gold medalist.
Davida Jackson, 11, is the most prolific younger runner, having captured seven national gold medals since 1974.
Grant tries to make traveling an educational expericence for the kids. Every trip includes sightseeing, and he requires the younger children to write essays about their experiences.
Grant is hoping to attract financial help for the program. Team members will be busy Thanksgiving weekend, with the boys going to Bloomington, Minn., and the girls traveling to San Bernadino, Calif., for their respective national AAU cross country championships. However, CYO will be unable to visit Longview, Wash., Dec. 10 for the Junior Olympics cross country competition, ending the reign of the 10-11 boys team.
Grant urges anyone who wishes to help the CYO program to call him at 882-0183. "Right now, I would be willing to hook up with anybody who legally made their money."