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Win one for Coach

Greg Rountree, Lakeland’s head track and field coach and coach of the Suffolk Stars, a track club for kids from age 5 on up, wishes Suffolk could start a middle-school track and field program.

Kevin Davis, head coach of the Suffolk Blazers 12-and-under AAU basketball team, certainly would’ve liked to have his Blazers practice in one gym this past year instead of having to bounce around among five different schools.

Paul Strange, head coach of the Holland (mostly Lakeland) Palomino baseball team, wishes more kids at Lakeland would come out for baseball.

All three coaches have these reasons and certainly a few more to relax and see if someone else around town would head up the Stars, Blazers or Holland come next season.

Suffolk doesn’t have any school-affiliated track teams until kids reach high-school age. Rountree’s club and his efforts added up to about 50 Stars being on the squad this spring and summer. Twenty-five Stars are culminating their season at the AAU Junior Olympic Games in Norfolk in a couple weeks.

In one way, it’s not surprising. Rountree is the first to mention, because he coached much of it, Suffolk’s impressive “track” record. Lakeland itself boasts Chris Copeland, Predist Walker and Jaquan Demiel as state champions in the last four years.

At the same time, though, Rountree knows there are more young athletes around Suffolk who, with a little coaching and a little practice, could be good sprinters, jumpers, hurdlers, long-distance runners or shot putters.

And the main reason why he’d like to bring more kids into the Stars, or any other track club around the region? Yes, district and state championships, especially for Lakeland, would be great, but the reason he repeats and repeats is college scholarships.

Just after another great Blazer run in an AAU National Championship, two of the best things for Coach Davis about winning a national title and other games and tournaments during the past few months are, “All of our players are from Suffolk” and “We represented (Suffolk) very well.”

With Suffolk’s basketball tradition, it’s far easier to draw enough 12-year-olds for an AAU basketball squad than is Rountree’s task with the Stars, but it takes the same amount of time and energy to get that team to compete, and then some, against other super-serious AAU teams from around the nation.

This past spring, Lakeland had only 10 varsity baseball players, at its healthiest, and barely had enough Cavs for varsity and junior varsity teams.

Strange has coached a summer PONY league team, primarily consisting of Lakeland players, for a few summers now. Short numbers would’ve been an understandable reason to ask, is this worth it? Instead, it’s been all the more reason for another summer of practically every night and weekend spent on a baseball diamond.

These three coaches are just the ones I’ve run into in the last few days. The same goes for most of the coaches who volunteer to make youth sports possible.

They give up lots of time and energy. For all the rewarding moments, they put up with a lot of headaches from traveling, scheduling, the summer heat (maybe not basketball coaches) and the joy of passionate parents. They all are helping youth in tangible and intangible ways.