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Kids get a chance to shine on MJC track

Even without the Modesto Relays, the youth part of the famous track meet lives on.

The popular festival for the world's top track and field participants left its home of 60-plus years at MJC for Sacramento after last year's event. It was announced in April that the meet would be canceled.

But that doesn't mean the fun won't go on for athletes ages 6 to 14. More than 600 of them will get the track all to themselves at the sixth annual Tom Moore Youth Relays, named to honor the longtime meet director, on Saturday at Modesto Junior College.

Rather than get lost in the enormity of the Modesto Relays, members of the Modesto-based Central Valley Roadrunners are just happy to have an event in their city.

"I just like to run," said Eric Robinson, 12, a football player who wants to improve his speed. "This is my first year running. We're always playing around outside."

Tuesday's practice mixed play and training under the direction of head coach Carl Bryant. He switched gears effortlessly between watching sprinters in a run-off for a final relay spot, talking with a girl about her poor grades at school and raking the sand in the long jump pit between each child's attempt.

One jump in particular was met with high-fives after the young man landed far beyond anyone's previous efforts.

"You gotta put that in a bottle," Bryant boomed. "Save some of that for Saturday."

While athletes practiced their form and takeoffs, Bryant enjoyed the coaching aspect of his Roadrunner duties. Saturday will bring the added role of meet organizer. But Bryant is proud to give the state's young athletes an opportunity to compete.

"I think we've done a good job revitalizing the youth part of the Relays," Bryant said. "Several teams have been here already and we get a lot of volunteers."

Eight members of the Central Valley Roadrunners brought home medals from the Junior Olympics in Omaha, Neb., last year. This year the Junior Olympics are in Greensboro, N.C., from July 28-Aug. 2. The club trains 80 athletes four days a week at Modesto Junior College and compete in Northern California meets on the weekends.

Turbo javelin thrower Dauson Booker, 9, is ranked fourth in the nation in his division with a high of 88 feet. Fellow bantam thrower Cerah Moren, ranked No. 1 in the nation, has to sit out this week after breaking her left arm falling over a hurdle.

Booker, a third-grader at Great Valley Academy Charter School in Modesto, also runs in the 100-meter race, the 400 and sometimes in the 4x100 and 4x400 relays. His javelin performance affects how well he runs.

"I stopped liking it for a while," Booker said. "I wasn't doing very good. After I threw 70 (feet, his low), at the next meet I threw 76 and then I threw 80. I just kept going."

Duane and Christina Wolterstorff heard about the Roadrunners on the sidelines of their sons' soccer games. Seth, 6, is in his first year with the track team and Caleb, 9, has tracked his times in the 400 and 1,500 in his second year.

"To be 9 and come up and say, 'Mom, I ran my PR,' that's just awesome to me," Christina Wolterstorff said. "Caleb's goal-setting and really taking ownership. Last year was fun. This year he's taking it more serious."

Bee staff writer Kelly Jones can be reached at kjones@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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