Top flight: Flyers qualify 24 for USATF National Junior Olympics

Published 11:11 pm Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Of 131 kids who participated in the Port Arthur Flyers club this year, 71 qualified for the regional meet in USA Track and Field.

Now, 24 of them will chase gold in their own Olympics in an Olympic year. Two of them know what it’s like to stand atop the podium.

One believes the competition will be stiffer.

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“Probably because this year, I came in third [in regionals], I think it will be more important,” Alexis Lewis said. “I have to practice harder.”

Alexis is one of two defending national champions for the Flyers and is seeking her fifth straight title in the long jump, this time in the girls 11- to 12-year-old division. She attributes her dominance in the sport to the extra time she devotes to the event.

“They can come to practice all the time and work harder and do more,” she said of those who consistently compete at a high level.

Many of Port Arthur’s athletes qualified for the USATF National Junior Olympic Championships, which will begin Monday and conclude July 31 in Sacramento, Calif., in the long jump.

“Our kids compete hard in all events, but the long jumpers, they spend a lot of time with it,” said Gerald Armstrong, the club’s head coach and co-founder.

Four long jumpers — Elijah Hines, Xavier Hull, Jeryne (pronounced “journey”) McZeal and Alexis — finished among the top three in the event at the Region 12 meet.

“A lot of people think the long jump is easy, but if you don’t have the right steps or the right fundamentals, you’re not going to make it,” said assistant coach Robert LeBlanc, who along with Alvin Thomas works with the long jumpers. “We always get the first ones to qualify for nationals.”

Nineteen Flyers advanced to the National Junior Olympics individually, with five more as members of the boys 11-12 4×100 and boys 15-16 4×400 relays. Each entry in nationals finished in the top five in regionals to make it to nationals.

Capri Wilson is returning to defend her national championship in the 100 meters in the 13- to 14-year-old group.

The tough competition that awaits in Sacramento does not concern her too much.

“Not as much when your confidence level gets higher,” said Capri, who won in regionals.

Aside from defending the title, she does have one goal in mind. That’s to show “that I’m stronger and that I can accomplish anything I want to, honestly.”

Armstrong said Port Arthur had the nation’s top-ranked girls’ 4×100 team in the girls 15-16 division, but the quartet dropped the stick in regionals, earning a disqualification.

Field specialist Kris Ross gives the club an uplifting story. He finished second in the 13-14 javelin and shot put in regionals, coming off a two-year layoff dealing with a loss in the family.

“First, I want to thank God because I’ve been through a lot the last two years with my dad dying,” Ross said. “Coming back after two years, I had to start fresh and start doing better.”

Capri shared the same appreciation to God and her family for her accomplishments.

Kendrick Miller (13-14 high jump) and Jharman Armstrong (13-14 shot put and discus) are among the Flyers’ top-three finishers in regionals.

Other individual national qualfiers from the Flyers: Javonte Butler, Sherrod Callihan, Vonzelle Hall, Damion Janson, Khiamauri Lawson, Gregory Leday, Paris Martin, Donnel Milton, Aniyah Williams, Kirsten Williams and Cardell Wilton.

I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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