By LOIS ELFMAN
Special to the AmNews
St. John’s University track and field coach James Hurt said he’s never seen so many spectators at a meet on campus as what he saw during the Amateur Athletic Union regional qualifier held at St. John’s June 27-30. The event was hosted by the Metro Eagles Sports Club Inc., an organization founded in 1990 that has produced stellar track and field talent.
Metro Eagles Track coach James Wilkerson said the event had an outstanding turnout, noting coach Rhanda Hopkins did a great job with organization. “It’s something the community really needed,” he said.
Home base for Metro Eagles is in Queens, and the kids train at Roy Wilkins Park. During the cold weather, they train at a local middle school. Sometimes in the summer, they go to the Catskills for training. Wilkerson ran track in high school and was a high jumper in college at North Carolina Central University. His motivation in starting Metro Eagles was to keep kids busy, physically active and out of trouble as well as preparing them to earn athletic scholarships to college.
“Track is the foundation of all sports because you have to run, jump and throw,” said Wilkerson, who also coaches at Holy Cross High School. “An athletic scholarship is a fantastic tool to help pay for a college education.”
There are approximately 60 kids in the program ages six to 18, training three days a week (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday). They’re shown proper warm-up stretching and solid technique. Competitions are typically on the weekends. Wilkerson believes in giving athletes sufficient recovery time.
All interested kids are welcome. As well as Queens, some kids come from Brooklyn and Long Island. “We give everybody the opportunity to compete,” said Wilkerson. “A track team can be as small or as big as you want it to be.”
Over the years, Metro Eagles has broken some national records. A contingent of 15-20 kids is heading to the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Greensboro, N.C. later this month. The 13- and 14-year-old boys are nationally ranked in the sprints and relays.
Wilkerson takes pride in giving back to the community. “It’s phenomenal to help young people get into school,” he said. “The majority of kids in this program turn into good citizens. That’s what motivates me. It’s so beneficial to a lot of the young athletes.”