For the past 13 years, Olympian LaTanya Sheffield has been helping turn students into athletes with her organization, Pops Track Club. The culmination of her effort took place last month, when four of her athletes competed in the USA Track and Field Junior National Olympic Championships in Wichita, Kansas.
From her club of about 25 athletes, they first competed in the State competition in Mesa. From there, 10 of them competed in the regional competition in mid-June.
In late July, Jaide Stepter, 16, Brittany Jones, 17, Alyssa Thompson, 16, and Paelata Helu, 8, traveled with their coach to the championships, where they impressed the crowds.
Stepter, who has been a standout athlete at Canyon Del Oro High School, is currently ranked first in Arizona in the 400- and 100-meter hurdles. She finished second in the nation in Kansas and went on to finish sixth at the world youth trials.
“It’s really cool going from the high school setting to the club setting because it’s such a higher level of competition,” Stepter said. “During the school year, your mind is always on the Nationals.”
Even when she did well at a high school track meet, Stepter was still thinking about how she needed to increase her time by seconds to be on par with the other national competitors.
“It’s really exciting once you actually get there, because that’s what you have been thinking about the whole year. It’s just a couple of months to go all out every single time,” she said.
Helu, who attends Painted Sky Elementary School, set the national record in her age group in the long jump for her jump of 3.67 meters, which is slightly more than 12 feet. She had placed second overall, but the first-place athlete’s jump was disqualified after judges determined it was aided by the wind.
Helu also took first place in the 100- and 200-meter dash, and long jump at State. She finished fifth in the nation in 200-meter dash and 15th in the 100-meter dash.
Thompson and Jones competed in the heptathlon, which is a two-day competition where athletes compete in seven different events: the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200-meter dash, long jump, javelin throw and the 800-meter dash.
Thompson finished 13th in the nation and Jones finished 11th in the nation.
“It was a lot of work but it was worth it,” Thompson said. “There was a lot of training and a lot of long practices to get us there. We got to feel what it was like to make it to the Nationals. Just making it there is a big accomplishment.”
For Jones, competing on the national level is unlike competing on the local high school level.
“High school track is different, because you are doing it for the team and you can do what the team needs,” Jones said. “But once you go on to the Junior Olympics, it’s all you.
“It’s real good competition, and shows you what you have to look forward to if you plan on going any further in track,” she added.
The Pops Track Club was named after one of its earlier coaches, Onesmus Strachan, whose nickname was Pops. Lately, the team has made it into an acronym meaning Power Of Performing Students.
The club works with kids ages 5 to 18, and hopes to not only have the student excel on the track, but also in the classroom academically.
To enroll, contact Sheffield at 465-8679 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.