In the waning daylight, stadium lights illuminate the track at Clovis East High School. They set the stage for tonight’s players — teacher and student. They’re in their places and begin their performance.
“Pivot on your right,” Coach Robert Fain instructs his protege. “Now, do that inside the ring and find out where your starting spot is. And then we practice and we practice and we practice and we practice. Chin up, chest up!”
Like a dancer learning a new routine, Lexi Schartmann repeats the sequence her coach has taught her, movements becoming more fluid and sure with each new attempt.
“I’m teaching her rotational technique for shot put,” Fain explains. “Most of the kids do a glide and it’s simple but if you can start them on the rotation, if they’re athletic enough in the movement ... I asked her before if she can dance. If they can do some of these things already, it’s just a little bit to teach them.”
Fain is the assistant head coach for the Jets Track Club (formerly Clovis Jets), a three-year-old developmental training club for young track and field athletes ages 5 to 18. The club offers competition training and competitive opportunities beyond those available in area schools. Since its founding by Ron Murray in 2013, membership has swelled from 10 to 120 athletes. Twelve were named All Americans at July’s USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Sacramento.
“I had been training a lot of different kids from different schools,” says Murray, a former Fresno State hurdler and football player. He previously coached at Clovis East and Fresno’s Edison High School. As he recalls, it was his athletes’ parents who suggested banding together to create a formal training club.
Initially he resisted, but a health scare set him on a new path. At 41, the father of six underwent surgery for three blocked arteries. After the procedure, he says, “I just started thinking differently.” The very next month, he started the Jets.
“I didn’t want to go back to the high school deal,” he adds. “It was kind of a good transition. I felt very comfortable about it. We went out there with 10 kids and then talked to a few other parents that I knew. Clovis is a smaller community. One person’s on this soccer team and all of a sudden [he’s] getting faster and the next thing you know, I get a call. We went from 10 to 65 kids in that first year.”
Those kids don’t just come from Clovis; kids who compete for the Fresno and Central unified school districts during the school track season train with the Jets. Some members even come from as far away as Selma, Kingsburg and Reedley to train.
“It’s about the sport and the kids,” says Murray, “not about region and territory and districts. That happens, and I understand, but sometimes the whole focus of the sport and progressing children as a whole, that gets lost.”
Clark Intermediate seventh-grader Lindsay Harris was in the fourth grade at Weldon Elementary when she won her events at the district’s elementary school championship meet. When her coach suggested additional training, her parents found the Jets.
“We train a lot harder here,” says Harris.
“It’s a lot of structure,” adds her mother, Tammie. “And, they have better knowledge of eating healthy and wanting to stay fit.”
Keira Aquino, a freshman at Edison High School, competes in hurdles, long jump and high jump. She was involved with track clubs in the past but has hit her stride since joining the Jets. She competed in the Junior Olympics in July and hopes to eventually receive a college scholarship.
“My coaches really explain everything that happens through the body, so that helps me to understand what I’m doing and that helps me improve,” she says. “Before I didn’t really know how everything works, so I didn’t understand how to do certain things ... this really helps with my form and knowing how to get faster and jump higher and farther.”
Parents say the opportunity to receive quality training makes up for the time spent in the car.
“We didn’t have a track club in town, so we drive all the way from Reedley to Clovis to participate,” says Lexi’s father, Daniel Schartmann. “It’s given her a lot more confidence; she’s learning how to be a competitor.”
“He thinks about things in a different way,” Aquino’s mother, Aimee Bird, says of Murray. “He explains it to them that if you’re running this way and you put your foot this way, then this is what’s going to happen but if you do it this way [and] then this way … You can see the light bulb go off. In her head, she’s running it through. Hurdling and high jump and long jump, those are all pretty technical [and] if you don’t hit your marks it’s not going to be, and she didn’t realize it. At school, she kind of just went out there and jumped. And did well, but once you get the mechanics ...”
Aquino finishes her mother’s thought: “I understand what I’m supposed to do, and I can do that.”
In keeping with the club’s mission to train the whole child, Murray and his fellow coaches require Jets athletes to maintain a minimum 2.75 grade point average. Coaches also teach the kids and their parents about nutrition and injury prevention.
And, while the Jets is not explicitly a Christian club, says Murray, many coaches and athletes do share the Christian faith; the team prays together before practices and meets.
“It is a huge commitment,” says Michelle Salcido, whose son, Jaden Mora, was a Top 25 finisher at the Junior Olympics, “but what I appreciate is the impact of the coaches on my son. He’s learned how to set goals. He’s going to learn lessons now that are going to carry him into high school, and, hopefully, past that.”
That, says Murray, is what it’s really about.
“I got a scholarship from Fresno State,” he says. “That changed my life. Everybody’s not Jenna Prandini — Jenna Prandini was born fast. Even if these kids don’t get a track scholarship, they’ll be better athletes overall. It’s not about what you do, it’s how you do it.”
Jets Track Club
For more information about Jets Track Club, including how to register for the 2017 season, visit www.jetstrack.org.