The conclusion of the AAU Junior Olympic Games at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, saw another successful run of district, regional, and national competition end for the year cycle in 2017.
And that impressed the national chair of AAU, Charles Oliver, who's known by most in the track and field community as 'Coach O.'
"I was really pleased with how the year went," said Oliver, who played an instrumental part in helping the Games run smoothly from July 29 to August 5. "We had a record number of athletes in our program during the course of the year. Between the district championships, regional and national championships and culminating with 11,000 athletes at the J.O. Games, it was our second highest number of athletes in Detroit in our history."
The final entries at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in the Detroit region for 2017 came up just short of the record 12,711 athletes from years prior. Athletes from 45 different states and Puerto Rico competed throughout the event and the top three states with the most athletes included Texas (1,676), Michigan (818), and Florida (801).
The Wings Track Club, based in Houston, Texas, brought the most athletes to the Games, totaling 136. USA Speed Academy, based in St. Louis, Missouri, brought 117, while the St. Louis Blues were close behind with 115.
Oliver said the principles of the AAU carried over through competition, too.
"Our premise is that it takes a village to raise a child," Oliver said. "I'm really excited that with the parents and coaches we have involved in our programs. They're coaching the kids up and to them it's more than just track. We're trying to instill life skills in them so they can be productive citizens when track and field is no longer an option."
Oliver sees the future landscape in youth track and field as one of its strongest crops ever.
"With AAU track and field, we can give ourselves a future in the sport because we're taking the time to grow the sport from the bottom up," he said.
This year saw 15 former Olympians contribute to events held by AAU track and field, Oliver said. Many lent their time with youth athletes and encouraged them to pursue set higher goals behind competition.
"I think it's very exciting to kids who idolize these athletes and see them as mentors," Oliver said. "Even on our J.O. Games staff, I have three Olympians and two gold medalists. We work with athletes who give back on a regular basis."
Oliver also wanted to thank all the sponsors for the roles they played in helping the AAU Junior Olympic Games run smoothly.
"FloTrack, Gatorade, East Bay, the Carl Lewis Perfect Method and others, all these organizations worked with us to provide a foundation for the athletes," he said.