Day of SPEED: Annual event prepares youths for state

In preparation for the state championship in two weeks, the Port City SPEED Track and Field Club hosted the 11th annual SPEED Relays on Saturday at Pine Bluff High School’s Alexander field.

“Kids go from city to city in Arkansas as practice for the state championship,” organizer Kathy Richards said. “But this also doubles as our SPEED Relays.

“We have kids from all over Arkansas – some as far as Texarkana – and eventually where they end up is the Junior Olympics in Detroit.”

SPEED Relays is sanctioned by the American Athletic Union (AAU) and serves as a practice meet in preparation for the Arkansas AAU State Championship meet, which will be held in June.

This year, about 410 kids, ages six through 18, registered for the event and Richards estimated that about 800 to 1,000 people were in attendance. All the proceeds from the event go towards the purchasing of hotels, charter buses and other expenses needed for the trips to the regionals and Junior Olympics.

“Last year, we had about 540 kids and a total attendance of about 1,000,” Richards said. “All-in-all, we are running about the same.”

While most competitors are a part of a team, individuals can enter as ‘unattached kids.’

“They register through the national AAU association,” Richards said. “Once they register, that qualifies them to run in any AAU sanctioned event.”

The state championship, which will be held in Little Rock at Central Arkansas Christian, qualifies competitors for the regionals. The regionals are held in Oklahoma.

“When they get to Oklahoma, they have to place first through fourth to qualify for the Junior Olympics,” Richards said. “That’s why they have to do well in these, so they are ready for that competition.”

There was some concern that because of the tornado that ripped through parts of Oklahoma earlier this week, the regionals would have to be moved to some place else.

But Larry Bryant, the regional director for Area 17, said everything is still scheduled to take place.

“The regionals will be held in Yukon, which is located on the other side of Oklahoma City,” Bryant said. “That area is safe.”

Bryant said he expects anywhere from 600 to 700 kids show up for the regionals.

Last year, Richards and her team took 34 kids to the Junior Olympics, but they have taken as many as 68.

“We did have one young lady finish with the eighth-fastest time in the nation,” Richards said. “There were 15,000 kids in the whole thing and 8,000 were track and field.

“You have to place first through eighth to get a medal and we had an 11-year-old place eighth.”

The relays are a part of a two-day event that will include today’s Sunday worship.

— Results from Saturday’s event have not been posted at this time.