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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Youth track teaches technique at early age

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Sikeston Stumpers coach Leother Branch watches Kelen Bland work on a drill.
SIKESTON -- She has only run in a couple of meets, but 7-year-old Chyna Blissett has already been dubbed the "Road Runner."

The reason simply put: "She's pretty fast," said her coach Leother Branch, who has timed Blissett for the 200-meter event at 36.3 seconds. She's so quick she even runs the 4-by-100 relay with the 9- and 10-year-olds.

Chyna asks to run and she's pretty darn good at it, said her mother, Yolanda Blissett.

"It's something I like to do. I just practice, and it's pretty easy," Chyna said. It's participating in track now that will prepare Chyna and other children her age as they get older, Branch said.

"There's a lot of sports that go on in Sikeston, and a lot of kids don't have the access to get involved in those other sports. This is an alternative for kids to be involved in something positive," Branch said.

Austin Branch, 5, practices his long jump.
Children who attend Sikeston Public Schools aren't exposed to track until seventh grade, and the Sikeston AAU track team is a way to develop their running skills early.

So the Sikeston Stumpers formed earlier this spring when a man from Poplar Bluff's AAU track team questioned Branch about why Sikeston didn't have a team.

"He told me there were several towns in our area (with teams), but Sikeston was one of towns that didn't have a youth track team," Branch recalled. "And basically there were a few parents and kids that wanted to participate. So we had a meeting and formed a team."

Currently 37 children ages preschool through 12 years participate on the Sikeston AAU track team. The children compete in 4-by-100 and 4-by-400 relays and individual 100 meters, 50 meters and 200 meters with some of running the 1,500 meters and 800 meters.

"I felt strong about really getting involved. A lot of kids didn't have the place to go and a lot of kids were really interested in doing track at this age level," Branch said. "And it gives them a lot of growth."

For example, Branch, who is assisted by Keyth Blissett and Kendra Nichols, teaches the children different running styles and techniques and breathing With the younger kids, it's about discipline, teaching them to stay in their lanes and pass the baton off, Branch said.

Some of the kids are 3- and 4-year-olds who are just trying to compete and build endurance, Branch said.

"It's pretty hilarious, especially with the younger ones. Some will take off in the other direction and others will run straight to their parents," Branch said. Relays develop a great bond between team members and it takes a team effort, chemistry and discipline, Branch pointed out.

"This track team is very parent-oriented. Parents are involved as much as the coaches," Branch said. "It's hard to run any track program without the support of the parents."

Yolanda Blissett said she approves of the track team because the kids enjoy it and it keeps them active and out of trouble.

"It's good because with public schools you can't do track at an early age, and this introduces them to what's to come," Blissett said. "And the YMCA doesn't have track so this gives them something different than the normal basketball or soccer."

Another reason to get involved is kids today are preoccupied with electronics, Branch said. "They need to get outdoors and use their muscles instead of their eyes to watch TV," he said.

For 9-year-old Janai Ivory, running track gives her something to do and it's exercise, she said.

While the running can be hard yet easy at other times, Janai said she's just going to keep trying. "I never give up," she said.

Throughout the season, the Sikeston Stumpers compete against teams in Poplar Bluff, Dexter, Chaffee, Cape Girardeau and Jackson. Their final meet begins at 9 a.m. May 21 at the Sikeston High School track.

And the children are really striving to learn, Branch said. He noted the team has won several first, second and third place awards.

"When the kids started competing and won, they were so happy," Branch said. "And just seeing the smiles on their faces when they got medals and ribbons was worth starting this up."