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Building a “field of dreams”

The green grass next to Jalor Gallery on Jefferson Street in Livingston was just a patch of grass until the Alabama Striders track and field team transformed it into their track.

Practicing on uneven field with four chairs marking the four turns of the “track,” and using large rocks as makeshift shotputs, ten members of the Alabama Striders made it to the 2006 AAU Indoor National Track Championships in Knoxville, Tenn., and all of them came back with medals.

“There is no track in Livingston, but I told them I saw a track in that empty field right over there,” Black Belt Action Committee commissioner Dr. Anthony Lessa said. “And they won 10 medals in the shotput competition after practicing with rocks.”

On Feb. 24, Sis. Marie Carter of the Jalor Gallery after-school program, and Striders coach and founder DeWitt Thomas chaperoned 10 Alabama Striders, along with inner city Birmingham children, on the three-day trip to the Knoxville competition.

“This is the first time children from the Black Belt ever ran age-group track on a level like this,” Thomas, who has coached both DHS coach Rodney Rowser and Olympic medal winner Vonetta Flowers over the years, said. “This is an historic moment in Black Belt history and they represented the Black Belt well.”

Rayshawn Ruffin came back with a gold medal from the 4X4 race and Bryson Carter placed 11th in the overall shotput competition. Ronesha Childers and Sydney Brown both received bronze medals, while Keioshia Carter and Brittany Greene earned silver medals for their participation in the 4X4. Veonca Fortner came in fourth in her heat and Jessica Bryant earned a bronze medal in the shotput competition. Doubling their medal totals were Ronnie Childers with a bronze in the shotput and a gold in the 4X4 and Corrin Robinson as she brought home both a bronze and silver medal in shotput and 4X4.

In total, the Livingston and Birmingham youth brought 18 medals back to Alabama.

“This was just an outstanding group,” Thomas said.

“We brought ten kids up there and all ten of them came back with medals,” Carter said. “Some of them came back with more than one. It was just great.”

Together Carter, Lessa and Thomas formed the Black Belt Athletic Wellness and Education Federation, or the BBAWE, which is responsible for bringing the children together.

BBAWE’s mission is have youngsters not only achieve in athletics, but to aid them in becoming high achievers in life.

“To you youngsters and your parents, it’s great to be winners in sports and bring home medals,” Lessa said, “but you also have to be winners in school, at home with your parents and in church. We want you to be winners in life.”

Although the Black Belt Action Committee has played a large role in gathering volunteer to help the organization, the three BBAWE founders were responsible for primarily funding the trip to Knoxville. Thus, they are currently seeking for support from business, government and private individuals so the program could included all interested youth.

In addition to the three founders, the organization’s board of directors includes James and LaRee Stegall, Brenda H. Kirkland and Ace Outland. While Gloria Bryant, Mayola Robinson, Jesse Lee Ormond, and Rose Anne Greene, serve on the advisory board along side Christopher Spencer, Annie Walker, Dr. Fred Primm, mayor Tom Tartt, Yolanda Brown and Tolona Wilson.

“We are at a point now where we need the community’s help to work with these children. This is about coming together to help. We have a commitment with the Sumter County School-Church Partnership to bring programs to 2,650 youth in the county. But we believe in miracles,” Lessa said. “The governor called the group the ‘Action Committee,” and this is action right here.”

For more information, contact Sister Marie Carter at (205) 652-4383 or visit www.psmlivingston.info or www. alabamastriders.8k.com.