Jered Cutler trains hard at Hawthorne High with the hope of bringing home a medal. Sean Hiller/Staff Photographer/Daily Breeze

By Sandy Mazza, Staff Writer

As dusk settles over Hawthorne High School, boys and girls can be found many weeknights pounding the rubber running track with fierce determination.

They are sweaty, tired and sore. But they keep running because they want to bring home a gold medal from the National Junior Olympic Track & Field Championships later this month.

It requires a lot of heart to do track, Morgan Simon, a 13-year-old Gardena resident, said between workouts. I see myself going to the Olympics and being the next fastest man in the world.

The private club allows members from across Los Angeles County to join, but since practices are in the South Bay, most are locals. The coaches are all volunteers, and they pay for trips with fundraisers and donations.

For the coaches, the reward is in watching the runners develop discipline and mental strength.

It's sheer joy to see them come from not doing so well, to see them develop their skills, said Chris Mack, the boys' head coach. It's a way for me to give back. Someone did it for me - my high school and college coaches.

It's exciting, as a coach, to see your kids among the elite athletes of the U.S.

Coach Virgil Everage said he enjoys the success the club has had.

These guys right here are a super group, Everage said. It's rare for a coach to find a talented group collectively. They put in a lot of hard work.

The club has had a lot of success since it

The drive for success often kicks in when the runners win races and receive recognition.

Darrell Fuery, a 14-year-old member of the relay team, is ranked as an All-America athlete - one of the top 20 in the country - by the National Elite Youth Ranking System in the 200-meter race. But he didn't like running when he started three years ago.

After the first year, it was OK, said Fuery, who joined the club to improve his football game. I got used to it. I got faster. Then people started liking me. I like the competition.

But the competition is tight, since the difference between first and last place is often less than a second.

To prepare the runners, the club practices two or three times a week throughout its long season, which begins with preseason training in November and ends in July.

Many of the club members use the training to improve their performance in other sports such as football and basketball. But some, like Simon, hope to make a living with the skill - from getting college scholarships to competing in the Olympics.

After you get to your top speed, it's more of a mental thing, Simon said. You just strive to be better.