When folks hear about the Amateur Athletic Union — much more commonly referred to as the AAU — their collective mind often wanders to basketball.
That’s entirely fair. I wrote an article in Sunday’s News-Gazette that pertained to AAU hoops.
But there’s more this association offers for summer activities, including the upcoming AAU Junior Olympic Games.
This track and field contest will take place July 27-Aug. 3 at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro.
Among those hoping to compete at this youth showcase are a handful of local standouts, through the Brown Track Team.
Coach Jennella Brown has overseen this program for 20 years. It’s not directly associated with any area high school, though it does operate out of Urbana.
“I’ve had kids coming from St. Louis, Rantoul and Danville to run for me,” Brown said. “I ran when I was young (in St. Louis). I just picked up a thing here and started training kids.”
Brown presently boasts five athletes who have advanced through both district and qualifying phases to make it to the national stage.
Jamira Faust, 13, most recently attended Urbana Middle School. She qualified for nationals in the 100-meter dash and shot put.
Josiah Cato, 11, is soon heading to Urbana Middle School as well. He moved forward in the javelin.
Then there’s a trio of 6-year-olds — Lucious Walker (long jump and shot put), Christian Howard (long jump and shot put) and Keyon Kersh (shot put).
“I’m very proud of all of them,” Brown said.
Just one item separates Brown from guaranteeing her kids will be part of the Junior Olympic Games: funding.
Brown said she recently learned a hotel room will cost $389, and that’s on top of rental costs for both a car and van to get the kids and their equipment out east.
Since Brown’s program isn’t directly tied to any school or money-producing institution, she and the athletes have to turn to more public fundraising processes.
They’ve run two car washes, the latest last Saturday morning and afternoon. They’ve set up a lemonade stand. They’ve appealed for money outside a local Walmart.
Those who wish to contribute to the cause of Brown and her pupils can contact her at 217-766-1992. The entry deadline for this tournament is Tuesday.
Perhaps all of these kids can become high school track and field stars thanks to the work Brown puts in with them now.
“I try to get the kids when they’re 4 and 5 and train them,” she said. “I try to help them get a scholarship and keep them busy.”