The Zion Hill Running Club had a track season to remember this summer.
The club sent 18 kids to the AAU Junior Olympics in Greensboro, North Carolina, earlier this month, no small task for the club and its non-profit group, Seguin Area Youth Athletics.
“It was quite the experience,” David Cardenas, the head coach for Zion Hill, said. “Some of the kids had never been on a plane before, much less compete in that type of atmosphere.
“If you want to be the best, you have to run with the best, and that atmosphere was very competitive. It was a blessing to see some of those times and face that level of competition.”
The club used various means to raise the $14,000 it took to take all the athletes and coaches to the meet.
“We tried everything we could to make it possible for these athletes,” Cardenas said. “Some of the parents sacrificed to help out with the needs to get the kids up there, so we’re thankful for that.
“We did a barbecue plate sale where we raised about $8,000 of what we needed, and on top of that there were several businesses in the community that believe in the vision we have for these youth and they helped sponsor the trip.”
There were 10-12 businesses in the area that contributed to the cause, Cardenas said.
The 18 kids that qualified for the meet were a record for the five-year-old club, which had sent six athletes in 2018, the previous mark.
“I’m impressed with all the kids and how they performed,” Cardenas said. “I know they gave all the effort they could.”
Three relay teams qualified for the meet, the boys 11-12 4x800 team, the boys 13-14 4x800 team and the girls 13-14 4x800 team.
The 11-12 year old team of Sammy Bode, Prince Medrano, Brandon Hernandez and Christopher Ramirez finished 13th out of 21 teams.
The 13-14 year olds took 15th out of 29 and the girls team finished 23rd.
Runners for the boys included Garrett Machado, Xavier Padron, Carlos Garza and Jayden Acuna. The girls team consisted of Madalyn Marquez, Madison Cardenas, Alexis Cantu, Jacklyn Sanchez and Mia Marquez.
“They all did amazing,” Cardenas said. “They’re going to continue to grow and evolve, and we’re excited about the upcoming season. This national experience was good for not only the coaches, but for the athletes, to know that is possible to make these kind of events.”
Nikko Monita qualified in two events, the 15-16 1,500 meters and 3,000 meters, where she finished 25th and 10th, respectively.
“The top eight in each event are designated All-Americans,” Cardenas said. “She was two spots away (in the 3,000) from All-American status.
“We made it there this year, so our goal for next year is to set that bar a little higher.”
Long distance runner Medrano ran not only with the relay team, but also in the 1,500 and 3,000. Bode also ran in the 1,500, as did 13-year-old Xavier Padron, who finished 29th out of 84 runners in the race.
Audrina Pacheco was a dual qualifier in the 11-year-old division, running in the 400 meters and competing in the long jump, where she finished 30th out of 93 jumpers.
The youngest athlete, Kamren Avalos, ran in the 8-year-old 1,500, where he finished 32nd out of 72 runners. Another youngster, Avery Franklin, qualified in the boys 8-year-old 100 meters, where he ran a time of 15.45 to finish 51st out of 86 competitors.
Also qualifying for the meet were Aaliyah Gonzales (10-year-old 1,500), Brody Zoeller, (10-year-old turbo javelin), and Jayden Acuna (13-year-old 400).
Taking that many athletes to the meet has Cardenas ready for next season and excited about the possibilities.
“It was a big learning experience,” he said. “We’re anticipating some off season track camps and putting together a cross country program to make it a year-long club.
“We want to continue to work with these kids and help them reach their full potential.”
Cardenas was very thankful for the support from the community.
“I just want to thank all of our supporters and sponsors,” Cardenas said. “Without their sponsorship, taking that many athletes would have been impossible.”
Kevin Duke is the sports editor for the Seguin Gazette. He can be contacted by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org .