The Aiken Palmetto Track and Field team provides an opportunity for runners from ages 6 to 18 to have an outlet to run outside of their normal, school-related schedules.
“I’d say that the club’s purpose started as a way for high school runners to have more competitions,” Charles McKeel, the club’s middle distance coach said. “Then we moved on to allowing homeschooled kids, and then the younger kids also came in. Now we mostly cater to elementary and middle school kids, but we also have our main club competitions after the high school season.”
McKeel also has personal goals for the club.
“For me personally, I want to teach kids about general fitness and have them enjoy aspects about sports,” he said. “Running is something that can stay with them, even after college, and I also want to help identify early on which kids can pursue cross country in high school and maybe even after that.”
Recently the club participated in the AAU national cross country championship on Dec. 1. At that meet the club had 20 participants, two of which, Ian DeMass and David McKeel, finished in the top 25-percent of their groups. DeMass finished 17th out of 60 runners in his two-year age group. The girls 7-8 year-old age group, which included Keira Wisdom, Jenna Potvin, Lydia McFall, Esther McFall and Eliza King, came in fourth at the event. Ester McFall is a former state champion, and two of the girls (Lydia McFall and Potvin) are both 6-years-old and required a special waiver to compete.
The boys group, which included Eduardo Barquet, Alex McKeel, Robert Morris, Will Harper and Nathan McFall, won the AAU state competition in the 11-12 age group that took place on Nov. 17 in Lexington.
Barquet won the competition outright as well.
“We’re out there competing with city-funded, high school affiliated and professionally coached teams,” Charles McKeel said. “We’re a group that is full of volunteers, and members can join us for free. The only fee comes with participating in events, and even then we have club fundraising events to help offset that a bit.”
The team trains and competes for 10 months a year, with December and July functioning as off months. Even during the month, though, the club offers team building games such as capture the flag, which takes place every Friday.
“I’m committed 10 months a year,” McKeel said. “I try to make it fun and not over train the younger kids, and when they turn 13 then they can handle a bit more. We won’t start ratcheting it up again until late January or February.”
Those that are interested in joining can call McKeel at 522-1271, the club at 649-1358, or visiting its website at www.palmettotrack-field.com.
Scott Rodgers is a graduate of Alvernia University and a staff writer at the Aiken Standard.