The Chillum Striders track club provides a much-needed service to youths in northern Prince George's County.
The Striders are the largest track club in the county with 64 athletes on the roster, and Coach Charles Sommerville sees his organization growing to 80 members the next five years.
"They are putting up a new community center in Chillum," said Sommerville. "With the addition of the center, the word about the club will get out."
The Chillum club fills a void created by the lack of a track program in the junior high schools, and it gives athletes who run on a competitive level in high school a chance to run year-round.
In addition, athletes who go to private schools that don't have track programs get a chance to run on a competitive basis.
The program, which started with 15 youths five years ago as an outgrowth of the Catholic Youth Organization track program, also attracts athletes from private schools in the District.
One of those is Stephen Brown, who recently graduated from Gonzaga. Brown, who will play football at Wake Forest, started with the Striders when he was 9 and has developed into a promising performer in the 110-meter high hurdles.
Brown recently set a record of 14.21 seconds, breaking the mark of 14.35, in the 17-18 age group category at The Athletic Congress Region III finals in South Carolina.
A number of Striders have competed in national events this summer. Among the younger members of the club, six relay squads went to Riverside, Calif.
In the 10-and-under category, T.J. Owens, Andrew Leo, Deon Campbell and Darryl Simpson competed in the 4x100 relay. Owens, Leo and Campbell and Dequan Hujhley ran in the 4x400 relay.
In the girls 11-12 age division, Stephanie Leo, Stephanie Williams, Valarie Harris and Dawn Simpson ran in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
At the TAC Region III championships, the team ran 55.0 to finish second in the 4x100 relay. The winners had qualified by capturing the Greensboro Championships.
In the boys 11-12, Michael Carter, Michael Jenkins, Derek Nills and Damon Lewis ran in the 4x400. Tifaqur Oliver replaced Lewis in the 4x800.
Oliver won the 1,500 meters in 4:40.0 at the TAC Region III championships. He will step up to the 3,000 meters next year.
Many of the older Striders competed this summer in Lincoln, Neb. Shauna Clarke, who runs for Northwestern during the school year, qualified to make the trip to the TAC Junior Nationals by winning the 15-16 800 meters in 2:19.0. The 17-18 4x800 relay squad of Derrick Johnson, Michael Williams, Tony Williams and Michael Moses qualified in 8:22.0.
After the summer season, Sommerville expects Brown, Clarke, Oliver and Owens to be ranked nationally in their respective age groups.