Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

DELRAY BEACH - As Pompey Park Track Club Coach Roland Flynn stands watch at a recent practice, he is quick to point out that things are different this year.

When Flynn took over coaching the club a year ago, he inherited a squad with fewer than 20 runners.

Eliza Gutierrez/The Post

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Members of the Pompey Park youth track club line up for stretches at the beginning of practice. The squad has more than tripled in size in the past year and now has more than 60 participants.

But as the new season gets under way, the Pompey club has gotten bigger - and better.

This year's team has drawn 60 boys and girls and is continuing to add more members, Flynn said.

It's a big difference (this year), he said.

Flynn said a number of factors contributed to the increase. Since this past year, Pompey recreation supervisors have increased their efforts to spread the word about the program in the Delray community. The club also has attracted kids from Lake Worth and Boynton Beach. Other programs, including the Delray Rocks youth football program, are using track to condition their athletes.

We didn't do too bad last year and a lot of kids wanted to be a part of track, Flynn said. Plus we had a lot of the football people out here trying to get their kids in shape for football season. A lot of coaches sent their kids out here ... It's a very good program, I think, this year.

And as the Pompey program, now in its third year, continues to grow, it has become more competitive. The club recently competed in invitational meets at Florida Atlantic University and in Hallandale and earned several medals. Flynn is hopeful that some of the athletes will qualify for this summer's Sunshine State Games and the Junior Olympics national championships.

But Flynn said track will benefit the athletes no matter how they finish.

I think it's going to be very beneficial because they are now beginning to grow and they're learning how to be disciplined, because track is a very disciplined sport, he said.

The athletes range from ages 5 to 16 and the team practices four days a week at the former Atlantic High School stadium on Seacrest Boulevard.

One of Pompey's top performers has been 13-year-old Jerimy Strainge, who competes in the youth boys division. In Pompey's first two meets, Strainge earned a first place and a third-place finish in the 100-meter dash. Strainge, who plays quarterback for the 135-pound Delray Rocks, said he joined the track club to get in shape for football.

Strainge, who also competes in the long jump and the 4x100 relay, said he's learning how challenging track and field can be.

I thought it was going to be easy, but it's a lot of work, he said.

Arthur Drexler, 14, of Delray Beach is one of the returners from last year. Drexler, who competes in the 800-, 1,500- and 3,000-meter races, said there has been more excitement with this year's team.

I think there's more people around to push each other, he said.

This year's squad also has featured a strong girls program, led by head coach and former Atlantic High track runner Nikki Troutman. Troutman said the Pompey girls have earned medals in the high jump, the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash and the 4x100 relay events.

All of the girls, they want to come out here and get in shape, Troutman said. I pick them up and bring them out and work hard with them. I just want them to improve (on) what they want to do.

Delray Rocks 135-pound football coach Bernard Quince has been assisting with the track program along with assistant coach Takesha Sanders and Kierra Mitchner, who helps with timing the runners.

Quince said that he thinks running track will help the football players improve their speed and endurance.

To me, track is the foundation for every sport, he said. If you play any sport, you need to be out here running track.