North Carolina’s HB2, the controversial “bathroom law” that has invoked some calls for boycotts, didn’t affect attendance at the Russell E. Blunt East Coast Invitational. Next month’s international track event in California had more to do with the numbers.
It all came down to economics for most parents, said coach Frank Davis of the Durham Striders, the invitational’s hosts.
Even the Striders have had to cut back, he said. A team trip last year to California cost $56,000 in airline tickets alone.
“We can do something else with that money,” Davis said Friday, the meet’s slowest day.
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Still, almost 800 track athletes, ranging in age from 8 to 18 years old, participated in the invitational named after Hillside High’s legendary coach. It was held from a hot, humid Friday through a wet, overcast Sunday in Durham County Memorial Stadium.
And the volunteers who return year after year are determined to keep the event a success.
Retired referee Lefty Martin is one such person. Martin has been volunteering for Striders events for the past 54 years.
“My first year was a learning experience. I was just out of college and didn’t know anything,” he said. “Some of the old guys took me under their wings and showed me the ropes.”
Martin said the biggest difference he sees in athletes today is the dedication – or lack of it.
“No one wants to train; they don’t want to pay the price for being good,” he said. “And they’ve got too many distractions that impacts on what they do, such as computers, video games, cellphones.
“And they don’t specialize. Back in the day, athletes specialized in events, but nowadays, they are playing soccer, basketball – all year-round sports – and that makes a difference.”
Despite the limited agenda on Friday, Davis said the events were some of the most important. The triple jump, pole vault and the javelin are not the most contested, but they can produce rewarding results.
“If they are any good, this is where a lot of players can earn college scholarships, because these are not the popular events,” he said. “We’ve seen it happen time and time again.”
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More than just a game
As a way to say thank you to its coaches and volunteers, Herb Sellers, league coordinator of the Durham Bulls Youth Athletic League, held an after-season appreciation dinner on July 12 at White Rock Baptist Church.
During the festivities, each coach and volunteer was given an opportunity to say a few words, and they all had a familiar theme: It’s about the kids.
Coach Terry McMillian, whose team won the 9-to-12-year-old division championship last month, has been with the league since its beginning.
“I just want to say thank you to the coaches here tonight,” he said. “It’s hard to get people to commit sometimes, but there are some coaches who are here year after year. It’s easy to criticize, but if you’re not doing anything to help, don’t criticize.”
Terry Barnes just completed his sixth season with the First Calvary Baptist team. Barnes told the dinner-goers how he was considering a return to high school coaching until the day that he and his daughter were riding down the street; at a stoplight, Barnes saw one of his 5-year-old DBYAL players waving to him.
The look on his face gave Barnes his answer.
“I told my daughter that I was staying with the league,” he said. “I have enjoyed the opportunity it has given me to work with other kids. My son is on the team.”
Zebedee Bryce is ready to help expand the DBYAL, which also offers soccer and basketball. A Durham probation officer, he understands first-hand the benefits of youth staying occupied during the summer.
“I don’t want to see them at 19 or 20 and they can’t read or write,” he said. “When I coach a kid, he can listen to somebody say ‘don’t go down that road.’ I don’t want them coming to me (at work).”
Praise was also heaped on Sellers – the man who keeps the DBYAL running.
“Herb needs to be applauded for his leadership,” assistant coach Kenneth Hargrove said. “He has done a lot for this league, and it wouldn’t be where it is now if it weren’t for him.”