Chris Ward is in his first summer as a coach with the West Valley Eagles Track Club, but it hasn't taken the 30-year-old Duarte resident long to establish a philosophy.
Ward believes that keeping kids on track and keeping kids on the track are one and the same.
"Everybody has had ups and downs in life, myself included," said Ward, a Pasadena High graduate who was an assistant track coach at Muir last spring. "I see the way some kids are headed and I try to get them to walk that straight line. You do that by encouraging them and keeping them motivated.
"My goal is to get them to have as much fun as possible so they stay in the mode of wanting to do positive things."
The West Valley Eagles are one of several youth track and field clubs in Southern California that provide young athletes with the opportunity to compete on the local, regional and national level. The Pasadena Running Roses and the L.A. Jets are two of the other clubs.
Next week, several athletes from the San Gabriel Valley, including five from reigning state champion Muir, will compete in the Junior Olympics at Gainesville, Fla.
Jucori Tryon will compete in the 400 meters and the 400 and 1,600 relays, DeAngelo Steward is entered in the long jump and relays, and Devin Myrick will run the 100 meters and the relays for the West Valley Eagles. Muir's Obea Moore will run the 400 and relays for the L.A. Jets and Derrick Evans will compete in the triple jump for the Pasadena Running Roses.
Sprinter Mike Russell of Rowland is also among the area athletes who qualified for the Junior Olympics with their performances at a regional meet two weeks ago in Long Beach.
"The experience these kids get during the summer is invaluable once the regular high school season starts," Muir track Coach Clyde Turner said. "It allows them to see where they are in their particular age group and where they stand against the best in the nation."
In preparation for the Junior Olympics, the club has been staging workouts four days a week at sites throughout Southern California. Mt. San Antonio College, L.A. Southwest College, Pasadena High, even a park in Manhattan Beach are places Ward has overseen workouts that attract some of the nation's most talented high school athletes.
"We use different sites so it doesn't take its toll on the kids or parents from one particular area," Ward said.
Earlier this week, competitors bound for Gainesville went through their paces during afternoon workouts in preparation for the Florida climate.
"We know it's going to be hot in Florida, so we want to get them used to running in the heat," Ward said. "There haven't been too many complaints. They can't always just practice for the race. Sometimes they have to train for the conditions."
Ward, who owns a company that rents studio sound equipment to dance clubs, oversees the intermediate (ages 15-16) and young men's (17-18) divisions of the West Valley Eagles. He said the summer brings out the best in many of his runners.
"In the summer, you find kids that really want to run, that come out because they really want to do it," he said. "That's different from the school year where, a lot of times, kids think you're making them run."
The summer also is beneficial because it allows Southland athletes to get to know each other as people rather than rivals. Without the tension associated with competition on the high school level, friendships are born.
"They compete against these guys all year, but they don't know who they are--they never get a chance to become friends," Ward said. "I tell the kids that when they go off to college, they're going to meet people from all over the world, so they better learn to get along now."
Ward is confident that his team will perform well in the Junior Olympics and that the runners will continue to be successful during the high school season. His hope is that they will use their ability on the track to make a run at success in all aspects of their lives.
"I try to stress that academics are more important than athletics," Ward said. "I just try to tell the kids that this (track) is something you can stick with for a long time if you stay on the right side of the fence."