After weeks of rain, the Mansfield Express Track team is finally back outside.
And the rain cleared up just in time, too, as the team competed in its first meet this past weekend.
“We didn’t lose too much time. We have only had six practices this season, so maybe half of the time we should have,” said Coach Shernita McMillan. “The athletes aren’t exactly where they need to be, but I expect nothing but the best the rest of the season.”
Mansfield Express is just like any other track team -- there are sprinters, hurdlers, long jumpers, shot putters and distance runners. The team ranges in age from 6 to 17, and competes in the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation (TAAF). Due to its workout facilities at Danny Jones Middle School, the team does not enter an athlete into the pole vaulting or high jumping events.
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But that hasn’t stopped the team from gaining members.
The Mansfield Express has seen phenomenal growth from its original eight members in 2003. Because of the sizable growth, the team had to enforce a cutoff of 110 members before the start of this summer season.
“We are still fielding calls, text messages, emails asking us if we are still signing up for the track team. The community support is huge,” said Terrance “Coach T” McMillan, who is also a coach at Worley Middle School. “We had to cut down on the number of athletes we use after moving to Danny Jones from Mansfield High, because we lose two lanes on the track in that move, so it’s limited us a bit. But we still are working hard with the athletes we have.”
That increase in numbers has led to an incredibly strong track team in an area where there are already very good middle school and high school track teams. Those athletes feed into the schools and become team members, some of whom go on to receive scholarships.
Shernita McMillan estimates that “about 10 to a dozen” athletes have received scholarships, and that number is most likely higher when counting team members that have moved on.
The husband and wife team lead the volunteer coaching staff through two to three workouts per week at the track, and the kids are responsive. They lead one another in stretches and warm-up runs, then break into age groups for fine tuning.
“The coaches have instilled in them what they expect, and a lot of our athletes have been out here five, six or seven years,” said Shernita McMillan.
There has been a positive response about the team from the middle school and high school coaches around the district. Many of the athletes participating with the team don’t count track and field as their top sport. There are football players, basketball players, soccer players, baseball and softball players and volleyball players on the squad, all looking for a summer workout schedule to keep in shape for when they go back to their favorite sport.
“We have had kids run pretty well with us during the summer and go back to school in the fall and blow people away. They have been asked how they did it, and they say ‘because of summer track,’” said Terrance McMillan.
There has been consistent success with the team, even as the team’s coaching staffs have evolved over the years. The McMillans have been the head coaches for two years now, but have been volunteering for nearly a decade.
Last year, the team took more than 80 members to the TAAF state meet. And while that is incredibly impressive for any team, what is even more impressive is the consistency of numbers. 2014 wasn’t the first time the team has taken a large group to the state finals, as the numbers of qualifiers has steadily increased since the first year of the Express.
“Word gets out. You see the team doing well, we are setting records and you have kids and parents telling you, ‘man, Mansfield is killing it,’” said Lanece Lisenby, a volunteer coach since 2005. “We had so many kids doing well that we finally had to put a cap on membership.”
With climbing numbers qualifying for the state meet, it’s no surprise that the team can proudly boast about past and current members setting state records. Taylor Coleman set a record in the age 14-and-under long jump in 2013, and at 18 feet, it’s a record that still stands. Vishall Singh had a great summer in 2013, running for gold in track and being voted as the TAAF male athlete of the year, beating out other athletes from every sport that TAAF offers in competition.
The state finals this year will be held in Bryan/College Station from July 30 to Aug. 3.
“I have made state before and finished third in the 100 (meter) and the 200 (meter),” said Brynn Williams, 11. “I have made a lot of friends here and my family is fully behind me.”