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Atlanta athletes qualify for the Junior Olympics

The team has 21 kids that are going to the AAU Junior Olympics.

ATLANTA — A group of young track and field athletes from Atlanta have qualified for the AAU Junior Olympics. Their coaches at the William Walker Recreation Center in the heart of the Ben Hill community said it’s a huge accomplishment, a big deal for their community and shows other kids what’s possible.

“We definitely have a special team here,” Coach Valentine Aka said. 

The kids call him Coach Valentine and there isn’t anywhere else he’d rather be.

“This is my dream since I was little,” he said. “Watching the kids grow means everything to me.”

Coach Valentine wants them to succeed, be healthy and learn from each other. 

“We try to get them off the video games and staying at home eating especially after the pandemic.” He said.

Everyone is welcome because everyone has potential.

“No matter what size and shape, we are going to take them,” Coach Valentine said. “We know that as we invest in them, they are going to get better in all kinds of ways.”

He said the program is about teaching tools they use in school, home, and life. To understand what it feels like to work hard, try your best, and be part of a team.

“I’m super proud of these kids they have come a long way," Coach Serign Ceesay said.

“We started with 10 kids in basketball jerseys,” added Coach Valentine. “Fast forward to now, and we had 74 kids in spring; 41 made it to state.” 

The AAU team now has 21 that are going to the Junior Olympics.

“My dad keeps telling me to think about how far I’ve come, and I still want to get the gold in all my races,” Braylon Rollins, a seventh grader in the program who qualified for the Junior Olympics said.

They are in the heart of the community, powered by people who have compassion for the community: parents, grandparents, aunts and coaches like Mario Fletcher.

“There is nothing like giving back to your community; it’s an awesome feeling,” Fletcher said. 

Coach Ceesay has personally experienced how it can change a child. 

“I was raised by coaches. I grew up in (a) single-parent household just me and my aunt and my coaches and they helped raise me and to keep me out of trouble, so I just want to give back,” Ceesay said. 

Inside the recreation center, there are banners on the wall that show this team's growing legacy and accomplishments. 

“We are really proud of what they have done with this track team.” Lewis Woodson said, the chairperson for Parks and Recreation for NPUP for Southwest Atlanta. “We strive to create the proper culture for our community that we want our kids to grow up in.”

   

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