The East Texas Steppers are getting ready for the National Junior Olympics.
They are the first AAU track team Nacogdoches has had in 20 years. This is the team’s first year together, and it came as a pleasant surprise when they qualified for the AAU Junior Olympic Games.
“To be honest, we were doubting ourselves when we were qualifying for nationals because we were surprised we even made it that far,” said Isiah Smith, who is competing in the 4X100 meter relay team. “When we made it to the national qualifier, we thought we might as well go all the way and show them what Nacogdoches boys can do.”
The coaches knew there was talent in East Texas, but they were not sure how their talent would hold up against the nation’s best.
“We were really shocked at what we did in one year,” said Steffanee Williams, the assistant coach for the East Texas Steppers. “We really didn't know that we were going to place in so many events.”
15 members from the team will travel to Iowa for the Junior Olympics that will be taking place at Drake University. Between the 15, they will compete in a variety of events ranging from the shot put, to the 100 meter dash.
“We're really ready to get up there, and see what the talent is in Iowa, and see what we can bring in to the table in Iowa,” said Williams.
To compete with the talent Iowa will throw their way, they've asked for the help of former Stephen F. Austin track star and All-American, Hampton Hawkins. Hawkins decided voluntarily to help coach the team.
“I feel like every kid deserves to get an opportunity to make something of themselves, and it's my job to promote it out of them,” said Hawkins. “I want them to be the best that they can be.”
The kids said Hawkins coaching tips have helped them tremendously in just a short period of time.
“He's helped us a lot. He's really a great coach. I hope he's around next year, and I hope he can go to Iowa. He's a great coach,” said Isiah.
Members of the team said no matter where they place, they're glad this team has sparked a new interest for them in track and field.
“It’s inspired me to get off the video games, come outside, have fun with your friends throwing shot put, and the coaches care about you a lot so pretty fun,” said Josiah Smith. “If you try you can succeed, you just got to put in a little effort.”
The team will be leaving Friday for the games, but until then they will be fundraising. The East Texas Steppers will be out at the Walmart on North Street in Nacogdoches all day Wednesday to help raise money for their trip.
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