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Chris Jelks founded what’s known today as the Kentucky Elite 13 years ago, envisioning a summer track team which would compete on the highest levels every year.
Some of the area’s best athletes have competed for the Elite over the years, and this summer is no different.
Starting today on the campus of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, 13 area athletes and Lawrenceburg resident Alorra Sims will be competing for the Elite at the AAU Junior Olympic Games.
“I don’t get to practice with them every day, but we’ve all bonded,” said John Hardin’s Eric Avant. “It’s been a good experience.”
Joining Sims are John Hardin’s Zantori Dickerson and the North Hardin contingent of Tyler Breeds, Zach Carr, Brandon Dulaney, Regene Gill, Kianna Gray, Gregory Hall, Thomas Henning, Bryce Meers, Andrew Morgan, Paige Pettell and Marcus Terrell.
The three Newsome siblings – Anastasia, Skye and Thor – will also compete.
Jelks, a North Hardin assistant, believes he has the best athletes this area has to offer at his disposal. And looking over the performance listing, that’s hard to argue.
Gray is seeded in the top 20 in all three of her events in the girls’ 17-18 age division. She’s 16th in the 200-meter dash, 17th in the 100 dash and 19th in the 100 hurdles.
“I’m ready for it. I’m not nervous,” Gray said. “I’ve trained pretty harder this summer. I want to do my best and find somebody who has a decent time and push myself off that.”
Sims is seeded 13th in the girls’ 14 triple jump, while Avant is ranked 16th in the boys’ 17-18 triple jump and Hall is 16th in the boys’ 10 shot put. Meers is 20th in the boys’ 17-18 110 hurdles, while Henning is 20th in the boys’ 17-18 triple jump.
Thor Newsome is ranked fourth in the boys’ 9 high jump, seventh in the triathlon, 10th in the 1,500 run and 24th in the 800. Anastasia Newsome is seeded 21st in the girls’ 12 pentathlon and 27th in the 3,000 run. Skye Newsome is 17th in the girls’ 8 1,500.
The Elite believe they can compete at the highest level this week.
“Summer track is a different experience,” Meers said. “You get to race people that you don’t normally see each week and you get to go to new places. It’s been fun. You never really know what to expect, so you just go out there and hope for the best.”
And they know competing in the summer will only make them better when the prep season resumes in the winter with indoor competitions.
“This has been very exciting and a great opportunity to be on the team,” Gill said. “I love my teammates. They push me to do better. My times are getting where I want them to be.”
Like Gill, Pettell joined the Elite because she wants to become one of the state’s best throwers.
Pettell is ranked 23rd in the 15-16 discus throw, 38th in the shot put and 39th in the javelin throw. She would like to place in the top eight in one of her events, but it won’t be disappointing if she doesn’t.
“If I do place or get close to placing, it shows me how much I’ve grown and that I’m only going to get better,” Pettell said. “It’s helped me a lot. My seventh-grade year, I didn’t do summer track. You lose a little bit from the year before and it’s almost like starting over.”
For athletes like Avant and Meers, competing on the AAU circuit will help them when they go off to college in a few weeks. Both are top-notch hurdlers – Avant is seeded 24th and Meers 65th in the 400 hurdles.
The 400 hurdles are not found in high school meets.
“Getting ready for the 400 hurdles, I had no idea what it was like before AAU,” he said. “But now, I have some experience under my belt. It was like going from a 400 to an 800, like a totally different race. Having to run the extra 100 meters is hard. It changes only a little bit in the way that I have to conserve myself and plan to keep on going that last 100 meters.
“Next week is just a whole new level of competition,” Avant added. “That’s what I’m looking forward to. It’s one thing to compete against everyone in Kentucky, but it’s a whole other thing to compete against some of the best in the nation.”
Breeds, Terrell, Carr, Morgan and Dulaney will compete in an event that isn’t offered in Kentucky at the prep level: the steeplechase.
Carr said he loves the event because it’s something different.
“It gives me more of a challenge,” he said. “Not only is it distance, but they throw in some hurdles and some jumps – a little bit of everything. Being on this team and begin able to go and represent Kentucky at different meets has been a great experience.”
One they won’t soon forget.
“Everybody is the best of the best out here,” Dickerson said. “It’s been fun to be on this team. Being on this team has helped me a lot in that my times have gone down.”
Josh Claywellcan be reached at (270) 505-1752 or email@example.com.