Dozens of families in a Johnston County track club have found a new place to practice after Clayton High School said they could no longer use its track.
Evolution Track Club has practiced at Clayton High since 2010 with the school’s permission. But after applying to use the track again this year, club founder Rhea Yates learned of a hoop her club would have to jump through. She then had her hopes dashed altogher.
In a Feb. 12 written response to Yates’ application, Clayton High Principal Clint Eaves said because of recent “misuse” and “vandalism,” the school was not allowing outside groups to use its facilities without the supervision of a staff member.
“At this time, I have not been able to secure a staff member that would supervise this activity,” Eaves said in the letter. “If I am able to secure someone, you will be responsible for paying them their current hourly rate.”
Yates said she asked Marlon Lee, a teacher and coach at Clayton High, to be the supervising staff member. In an email to Eaves on Feb. 23, Yates said Lee might be able to help the club, which would hold its practices around his schedule.
In the email, Yates asked to meet with the principal and Lee so she could secure a practice space before the club’s parent orientation on Feb. 28.
Eaves responded that while he appreciated her efforts, he had decided not to let the club use the school’s track at all.
“I know we have several students/families that work out with your organization,” Eaves said in his response on Feb. 23. “However, with recent events of misuse of our facilities, we have to be more diligent in preservation of our campus.
“I wish you luck in securing a site for your club to practice.”
But the track club didn’t have luck at the other schools it contacted. So Yates went to the March 10 Johnston County Board of Education meeting to make her club’s case.
After listening to Yates, board chairman Larry Strickland asked the district’s policy-review committee to revisit the use of school facilities. A few days later, Yates said she heard back from the policy-review committee, which told her to reapply at the school tracks she was interested in using. She applied to Cleveland High, which approved her request on March 16, she said.
The Johnston County school system allows outside groups to use its sports facilities so long as they have insurance and pay a fee if one is required. Evolution Track Club will not have to pay to use Cleveland High’s track, Yates said.
The district’s policies do give principals the authority to approve or deny the use of their individual facilities.
Practice was supposed to start in early March, and the club’s first practice was held March 23. This year, Yates is expecting about 50 athletes, who typically practice from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
In the past, Yates said, her club has scheduled its practices around school meets and practices. In addition, she said her club’s athletes are insured through their membership in USA Track and Field.
The News-Star asked to speak with Eaves, the principal at Clayton High. Instead, schools spokeswoman Tracey Peedin Jones forwarded the following statement attributed to the principal:
“The reason to approve and deny the use of facilities at the school level is based on numerous factors, including but not limited to: misuse of the facilities, previous vandalism, availability of supervision, availability of school staff, history of use, cleanliness and upkeep, wear and tear, school schedule, etc.”
“All guidelines and regulations listed on the facility use form must be adhered to as well.”
The statement did not explain why Eaves said no to the track club.
In a later email, Peedin Jones said vandalism was not an issue with the track club. “Due to certain issues, Clayton High School personnel was a requirement for supervision in order for the Evolution Track Club to be able use the facility,” she said. “This supervision was not able to be procured.”
Nailah Alston’s son, Everett, started running with Evolution Track Club last year. Her husband, Barry, is one of the club’s coaches.
Alston, who lives in Clayton, said her son, a sprinter, had never run track before but has since grown to love it.
“He was kind of shy when he first got there, but it really helped him to open up,” Alston said. “All of the children, you can see the self-determination and pride they have as they are competing and practicing.”
Alston said she was disappointed that Clayton High said the club couldn’t use the track, especially since she’s seen AAU basketball teams use the track and other school facilities.
“Our children are here; we pay taxes here,” Alston said. “I don’t think it should have to take my child to Raleigh to participate in activities.”
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104