Young athletes head to Junior Olympics

Published July 27, 2005

ST. PETERSBURG - While most youth in the county have been enjoying their summer break or earning money with a summer job, 9-year-old Adrian Snead has focused on two things: trying to get McDonald's and medals.

He's one of the 19 members of the St. Petersburg Striders Youth Track and Field Club who qualified at an Amateur Athletic Union state meet in Gainesville last month, earning a spot in the 39th AAU Junior Olympic Games this weekend in New Orleans.

Adrian will have the opportunity to acquire both McDonald's and medals. If he outperforms the competition at the Games in the 800- and 1,500-meter races, he will be draped in gold. Even if he falls short of his goal, his mother and coach, Monica Snead, will take him out to the fast-food chain.

"Sometimes it gets overwhelming for them. They just get star struck," Ms. Snead said. "They are used to running here, where there's usually like one stand."

The track and field events will be held at the 26,500-seat Tad Gormley Stadium. The place is usually packed, Ms. Snead said.

DeVontae Persha is one runner who is taking it all in stride.

The 2005 Games will be the fourth for the incoming fourth-grader at Liberty Christian School on Fourth Street N. It's not hard to find DeVontae at the Striders' practices at the rocky trail at Lake Vista Recreation Center or on the smooth pavement at Lakewood High School's track.

His long legs will almost always be among the first to come around the track during the half-mile "warmup" laps that Striders head coach David Brown enforces - even for those who participate only in field events or the walk race.

"Everybody runs that half," said Brown, 47, a former track standout at Dixie Hollins High School. "That helps push their endurance. You got to be able to release that energy within. It gives them that energy to push that shot put or that discus a little bit further," he said.

For the Striders, the road to the Games hasn't been a graceful gallop. Smith said four children have lost their mothers this season alone.

Others have to work to keep their grades up to stay on the team, all the while enduring Brown's teaching, tempered with tough love.

"I like our coaches," said Destiney Newsome, 10, "the way they teach us how to run and how they treat us."

On Monday, Brown was "strictly business" at Lake Vista.

"You better get with the program," he barked as one of the kids seemed to lose focus in the sweltering sun.

The program produces. Brown began coaching the Striders a year after the club was founded in 1987. Tim Carter, wide receiver for the New York Giants, was once a Strider.

Brown's daughter Sharneka is preparing to graduate from Florida State University on a full track scholarship, he said.

"You got to be hard on these kids, and the kids understand," Brown said. "Once they get their mind disciplined, they can do anything."

Striders who qualified for the 2005 AAU Junior Olympic Games include DeVontae Persha, Kelvin White, Timothy Snead, Adrian Snead, Aliya Maxwell, Napolean Maxwell, Grant Baxter, Vershayla Munnerlyn, Destiney Newsome, Teasia Hunter, Donneishia Hunter, Shawntavia Nelson, Jyira Moore, Rhianna Willis, Justice Clark, Brajha Burnett, Antanai Selmon, Zoi Thompson and Shane Allen.