Lionel on the Quad at the Reno XC Championships 2009
Editors Note: There are thousands of coaches, leaders, officials and volunteers that give their time and even their own money to make a youth track or cross country meet happen. We thought you’d like to know something about the faces behind the scenes. This week we’re introducing you to Lionel Leach who is the Youth Chair of USATF. At YR we’ve known him for over fifteen years now. Lionel is one of the hardest working, movers and shakers in the youth track and field world …plus he’s an all around cool person. We discovered some new things about him…check it out.
YR: Lionel, you’re recognized as the National Youth Chair of USATF and the guy behind the wheel on the Quad at XC Nationals. What they may not know is you also ran as a kid. Can you tell us where you grew up, how you got started and how old you were when you realized that running was for you?
LIONEL: I started running when I was 9 years old. Our school district would hold an annual track meet at the high school where all the elementary schools would compete against each other. I was fast, however when I got to that meet I met others from around the city that were just as fast. Nevertheless I received my first medal. I then went on to Essex Catholic Boys High School where I had the opportunity to meet Marty Liquori and Peter Westbrook. Everyone knows Marty and he put Essex Catholic on the map as a track program but Peter was an Olympic fencer and to me that was a great honor as well. That is when I decided track was for me because Mr. Westbrook told me that running was the best thing to get into college.
YR: Did you have youth clubs when you were a kid like we do now with the Junior Olympics?
LIONEL: Yes, I ran for the Newark “Y” Track Club out of Newark, New Jersey. My best friend in high school Terrell Day asked me my freshman year if I wanted to go to California for the summer, of course I said yes so I had to attend a tryout at the old Iron Bound Stadium in Newark which we called the “Neck”. I will never forget that day. Practice started at 6 pm and I arrived at 6:10 as soon as I got off the bus and walked into the stadium, I was greeted by this older gentleman that said to me can I help you? I said yes I am a friend of Terrell and I would like to join the track team. “You want to join the track team, well why are you late for my practice,” I remember telling him that I caught the wrong bus. “Well since you caught the wrong bus, give me 25 push-ups.” I remember clearly saying, “ah man” and the gentleman saying, “My name is not ah man it is Mr. Davis or Coach Davis to you add another 25 more.” I sucked my teeth and he said make it 75, I knew not to say another word because if I did I would have done 100 easily that day. I never was late for practice again and that is why I still to this day make it my duty to start any track meet that I am in charge of on time.
YR: How about your first big race or track meet? What was your best event?
LIONEL: That same year in California, I ran the 3 leg on the 4x100. When I got the stick we were in 2nd place… by the time I passed it off we were in 4th, I passed the stick and continued running straight to my room I was so embarrassed. I remember hurdling the gate and Mr. Davis though I should be a long jumper.
YR: What was your best high school experience in track?
LIONEL: Jumping 20 feet as a sophomore, I found my event. I think the second was leading off the “B” team 4x100 meters relay and beating the “A” at the Catholic Track Conference Relays.
YR: Do you remember one race that didn't go the way you wanted but looking back now built the most character in you?
LIONEL: While a freshman at Niagara University, I was the favorite to win the 55 meter in the New York Upstate championships, while I was preparing all week for this meet; I went out partying the night before. Needless to say I did not win the event and placed 3rd. I then learned not to get side tracked because it can prevent you from meeting your goals.
YR: How much did growing up with track influence your decision to volunteer your time as a coach and as the Youth Chair of USATF?
LIONEL: When I returned home from my freshman year from Niagara University, I went to my age group team practice to say hello to everyone. I remember sitting in the stands watching and Mr. Davis yelled “Lionel get out of the stands and come here.” Even though I was in college Mr. Davis still had this kind of influence over all that went through the program. He gave me a clipboard and a whistle and he told me I must give back what was given to me. That was in 1987, I have been going ever since.
YR: What's your favorite part of the job?
LIONEL: Watching the smiles on the faces of these kids when they do well.
YR: How important are the army of volunteers that run the meets?
LIONEL: Without the volunteers and officials, we have no event, that is why at the end of each meet I shake the hands of every official and volunteer, because I know the sacrifice they are making to be there.
YR: What's been the highlight for you so far, or best accomplishment?
LIONEL: Fight to become our own division and not just a committee. Our program has not only increased by the amount of athletes, but also the new programs we have created in the past five years like the indoor championship meet.
YR: How do you feel about the direction of youth sports in the U.S. right now?
LIONEL: We have grown so much, the future of USA track & field is in good hands with this new generation going though our program.
YR: There are a lot of families out there going through tough times right now that may not be able to join a club, get new shoes, or pay for travel. What word of hope or advice can you offer them?
LIONEL: Since I became chair, we have given amounts of a million dollars in grants to help with travel for teams around the US, we have something for everyone. They should give me a call and I am sure we can find something for them.
YR: Ok how about some of your Faves?
YR: If you could leave one piece of advice for young athletes what would that be?
LIONEL: Set goals high and reach for the sky, don’t let anyone tell you can not do it.