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All-Americans relay talent, passion to keep youth ‘on track’

Shanice Maxwell

Ask a child who wants to be an athlete when they grow up and usually they’ll cite basketball, football or baseball as their sport of choice. Very seldom does track and field ever make the cut.

The glitz and glamour associated with the more popular sports usually dissipates when it comes to track.

Said Ahmed is just one of many trying to change that.

He’s made it his duty to share the fulfillment track brings him with others.

“Track and field is not the most popular sport out there, but there’s a lot of people who have love for the sport,” said Ahmed, 30, of Roxbury, who created The Boston United Track and Cross Country Club in 2011. “People did it for us when we were younger and it’s just a responsibility we felt we needed to give back.”

As a former All-American track star who received a full athletic scholarship to the University of Arkansas, Said wanted to offer local youth an opportunity to have similar success and present them with an alternative option for fitness, fun and a future full of promise.

Coach Sekou Dilday, 35, of Dorchester, who is also a former All-American track star, can relate, and acknowledges a pressing need for clubs like Boston United.

“[This] gives kids the opportunity to get off the couch, to put down the video game controller and do something active.” Dilday explains. “It also gives them a chance to share in the oldest Olympian sport known to man.”

Boston United Track and Cross Country Club is a free and co-ed program open to all ages. No prior training or skill in track and cross country are needed either. All that is required is a willingness to learn and participation in weekly practices at the Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex in Roxbury on Saturdays from noon to 2 p.m.

In a little over two years, dozens of families from all over the Greater Boston Area have enrolled their sons and daughters in the club.

Today, many of the kids have come to realize they were track superstars all along. But it took involvement in the club for them to tap into their hidden potential and with the help of their coaches, start to nurture it.

Dorchester’s Tammi King has two sons, Jovan and Jhalen, who have been running with the Boston United Track and Cross Country Club since its inception.

“It’s a great program and it [would be] nice if more and more people came out and brought their kids,” King said. “It helps them to see what their potential is that they never knew before, because before I brought [my sons] here, I never knew my oldest son Jovan could run. Then I saw him on the track and he’s blowing it away.”

The expressions on the kids’ faces during practice on Feb. 2 were nothing but jovial.

“My name’s Jhalen and I can run!” said Jhalen King, 7, of Dorchester. “When I get to run and then when I’m jogging I get excited.”

“It’s fun to come to this because it’s all for a purpose. It’s to do the track meets and I enjoy the friends I’ve made,” said Declin Kirwin, 11, of Jamaica Plain.

Being at the Melnea Cass Center is fulfilling for the youth in more ways than one. While making friends, they’re also growing stronger and faster all while learning more about what they can accomplish when they give something their all.

Boston United Track and Cross Country Club provides them tangible results and shows them the power they possess when they push themselves mentally and physically.

For parents like Monique Sampson, 29, of Dorchester, it’s also meaningful for boys in the club, including her 6 year-old son Jamai, to have coaches who look like them.

“I love that most of the coaches are all guys, and I think that’s very important for the young men and the young women to see men in our community, you know, black men, doing something positive,” Sampson said.

The club has its rewards not only for the youngsters but for the coaches as well.

For Dilday, it’s seeing the kids’ times improve from week to week and watching them enjoy the drills that have been designed to foster fun and time for socializing with newfound friends.

“I see the satisfaction when they finish a tough workout,” Dilday said. “They’re high-fiving and they’re happy. They understand the sense of accomplishment.”

“We saw a need for it and we said ‘let’s just do it,’” said supporter and board member Barbara Hamilton of Boston’s Centers for Youth and Families.

Slowly but surely, Ahmed, Dilday, and the other muscles and minds behind the Boston United Track and Cross Country Club can see track becoming more and more cherished.

Finally.

“Personally I feel really good when I see these kids have a passion for this sport,” Ahmed said. “I‘ve had much success in this sport, so even if we get one kid to have that much success in this thing, it’s a big achievement.”

Boston United Track and Cross Country Club welcomes new members each Saturday from 12-2 p.m. at the Melnea A. Cass Recreational Complex.