Up next? AAU Nationals and the Junior Olympic Games.
The sun is starting to dip below the horizon, but the kids are still sprinting back and forth. I'Van Gaines keeps a watchful eye over them.
Track and field is his game.
"We couldn’t do it without all the practice we’ve been putting in."
The kids, about 12 of them, endure sprints across the grassy field at Ralph Carter Park in Palm Coast. They usually practice on the hard-surfaced track at Flagler Palm Coast High School. Today was a laid-back day for them.
The Daytona Express Track Club, a team that competes in the American Athletic Union, has been in existence for about four years. But in the past year, the club has allowed athletes from Flagler County to join. Of the 50 or so kids on the team, 15 are from Flagler.
The Flagler kids are also the ones winning medals.
“Track has always been my forte,” said Gaines, an assistant coach with the team and former track athlete at Bethune-Cookman University. “I just teach these kids what I know. Right now, it’s working. We’re winning. We’re traveling, and we’ve become a close-knit family. This is just the beginning.”
The team competes all year long. They’ve competed in eight events so far — most recently at the Region 9 State Meet June 20-23 in Kissimmee.
The 14-and-under relay team of Demond Noelien, Dennis Murray Jr., Sho'Marion Gaines and Elyjah Gilyard won gold in the 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relays. The 10-and-under team of I'Van Gaines Jr., Brian Gunter, Jai'len Gaines and Deshaun Henderson won gold the 4x100 and 4x400. Sydney Noelien won the shot put. Jai’len Gaines took first in the 800-meter run. I’Van Gaines Jr. won gold in the 800. And Zachery Russell placed third in the high jump and fifth in the 1,500-meter run.
“It started off with not really big expectations,” Gaines said. “But once they bought into the system, once they bought into the work, the expectation level rose. It’s great to see those young men compete and learn and apply what they’re learning in competition.”
Up next is the AAU National Track and Field Championships on July 7-13 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at The Walt Disney World Resort, and eventually, the AAU Junior Olympic Games, held July 24 through Aug. 3 in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Gaines has had fun coaching the next generation of Flagler County track and field. Each kid is different, he said.
“They all come with their own attitude, their own swagger," he said. "But to have them gel as a team and to see them grow, it’s amazing.”