Geraldine Michelle, 11, of the Fort Myers Police Athletic League Olympic Track Club, runs the 400 meters during practice Thursday at Dunbar High School. / Kinfay Moroti/The News-Press

Dunbar-based squad runs to second straight state title

Bringing home the state championship gold

A quick look at Fort Myers Police Athletic League Olympia Track Club's state champions from last month:

  • 100-meter run: Aisha Cobb, 11
  • 200, 400: Savi Neal, 11
  • 400, 800: Shuntavious Smith, 10
  • Long jump: Elijah Jones, 11
  • Long Jump: Jeremiah Davis, 10
  • Shot put: Charles Ellis, 13
  • 10-year-old 4x100 relay: Michael Johnson, Jeremiah Davis, Shuntavious Smith, Jalen Ellis
  • 11-year-old 4x100 relay: Rahkeem Jacques-Louis, Carl Burnside, Joshua Maybin, Elijah Jones
  • 80-meter hurdles: Carl Burnside, 11

When Maddette Smith started the Fort Myers Police Athletic League Olympia Track Club four years ago, she wanted to reinvigorate local track and field.

Thursday's practice, which - if not for the diminutive height of several of the participants - might have passed for a top high school track program's practice, served some notice she has succeeded.

So have the club's consecutive PAL state championships.

The first year I came out, there were like 15 people, said Shuntavious Smith, 10, who is ranked in the top five in the 400- and 800-meter run in his age group by Elite Youth, a database of timed scores from across the country. Now it's gotten a lot bigger.

And more productive. The 60-plus athletes that make up the club's membership range from the youngest elementary school kids to a dozen or so high schoolers - Finally we're getting the high school kids, Smith said with a smile - and they go right to work the four days a week they spend working out in the heat at the Dunbar High School track.

They know now, this is where you need to be, Smith said. It's not about being where you want to be, it's about being where you have to be to win.

Now they're seeing results.

Aside from the state championships, the club finished fourth at AAU national qualifiers last year before taking 17 to Junior Olympics and returning with a stack of top-five finishes.

This year, they want more than being near the top. They want to bring home gold.

The journey starts this week with a return to the AAU national qualifiers before culminating in the Junior Olympics on July 30 in New Orleans.

It's a big difference, said 11-year-old Shyheem Jacques-Louis, who is ranked first in the country in the 400-meter and finished fourth in the 800 last year at Junior Olympics They had more experience than me.

This year, I'm definitely going to win.

Smith said part of the reason for the growth in team confidence is an enlarged coaching staff with more specialized knowledge in each individual event. But the biggest improvement comes from what Shyheem alluded to: experience.

It all has Smith, a former UNLV track star herself, feeling pretty good about her track revival.

I actually think we're above what we expected, Smith said. They have done awesome.

Hopefully, we get 60 more kids.

Shuntavious has enjoyed the greater esteem in which the club is now being held in big meets as well as around the community.

It's pretty cool, he said. I hear people talking about us