Ready to run: Southern Oklahoma Track Club celebrates 25 seasons of success
Earlier this year the Southern Oklahoma Track Club began its 25th season and 26th year after taking 2020 off because of COVID. The club’s goal is to build character and install a life-long love of physical activity through youth track and field. The club competes in a variety of local and regional track meets and over the years hundreds of children have qualified to compete in national competitions.
Things began in 1996 when Harold Brown, Chris Pelton and Phil and Susie Tabor founded the Ardmore Track Club with 16 boys. The club was opened to girls in 1997, and it changed its name to the Southern Oklahoma Track Club in 2009 to better reflect all of the children that participate.
“Our athletes come from Ardmore, Plainview, Dickson, Madill, Kingston, Wynnewood, Pauls Valley, Ada, and even Gainesville, (Tex.),” Pelton said. “Plainview also has a youth track club, but other than that we’re the only one around here and the next closest one is in Oklahoma City. So the kids really come from everywhere to run with us.”
Registration begins each year in March, and practices begin in April. The students practice every Tuesday and Thursday through the first week of August with additional practices scheduled in the days and weeks leading up to various local and regional track meets. As the athletes win competitions they continue advancing, and each year the very best qualify for national competitions.
This year’s national competition will be in Jacksonville, Fla., but over the years the club has taken athletes to Seattle, Wash., Sacramento, Calif., Buffalo, N.Y., Indianapolis, Ind., Omaha, Neb., and many others. For some of these children, this is their first opportunity to travel or get on an airplane.
“One year we took 47 kids to nationals in Buffalo, N.Y,” Pelton said. “The kids have been able to see all sorts of cool stuff over the years. The competitions last several days, so there is usually at least one day where we don’t have anyone competing in the afternoon and we get to go sightseeing. When we went to Sacramento, (Calif.) we drove down to San Francisco, (Calif.) to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and take a ride on the trolley cars. The last time we were in Jacksonville, (Fla.) we went out to dinner one night and I ordered kangaroo, alligator and shark then passed it around so that everybody got to try a piece.”
While the athletes pay a fee to participate in the program, much of the club’s funding comes from sponsorships by local businesses and a variety of fundraisers held throughout the summer. Harold Brown said scholarships are also available for children in need of financial assistance.
“We do all sorts of fundraisers to help pay for the kids to go to their competitions,” Brown said. “Right now we’re holding a raffle for four sets of new Michelin tires and we’ve also got an indian taco sale coming up at the end of the month.”
While the trips are fun for everyone, Brown said the best part of being involved with SOTC is seeing the children succeed.
“It’s so amazing seeing the athletes that you’ve helped coach do well and seeing the look on their face when they succeed,” he said. “That could be winning a medal and coming in first or even just achieving their individual goal and breaking their own personal record.”
Pelton said it’s also rewarding to see the children that were once part of the program go on to further success in track and field.
“We’ve had kids go on to be state champions with their school and go on to compete in college,” he said. “Some have even come back to the area and are coaches at our local schools.”
For more information about the Southern Oklahoma Track Club as well as information about their upcoming fundraising efforts visit their Facebook page. Raffle tickets for four new Michelin tires can be purchased for $5 or five tickets for $20 from any track club member or coach and at the HFV Wilson Community Center. The drawing will be held on June 22. The Indian Taco sale will take place at the HFV Wilson Center on June 25.