Willie Ruiz from the Concho Valley Pole Vault Club watched as two of his pole vaulters competed Friday at the annual Dr. Daniel Cepero Memorial Track Meet.
He gave his young athletes pointers after every attempt, keeping their confidence high through the hot West Texas afternoon at Ratliff Stadium.
It wasn’t the first time Ruiz has brought kids to compete, as he recalled registering athletes in 2003 when the first edition of the Cepero Meet took place.
When the competition was shelved last year because of COVID-19, Ruiz said he felt his kids were left without an opportunity to showcase their skills.
He understands the importance of staying active in track competition, even when the academic year has come to a close.
“It definitely helps them,” Ruiz said. “Just because the UIL competitions stop, it doesn’t mean that the overall competition ends.
“With USA Track and Field, AAU, TAAF and coming here to the Cepero Meet, it helps the kids. It also opens their eyes to see that track is still going on.”
Aside from the chance to compete, young athletes missed out on important lessons and building connections with others when 2020 was lost to the pandemic.
Richard Neboh, like his brothers, competed at the Cepero Meet and other summer track competitions when he was growing up.
This is his first year serving as the head coach for the West Texas Track Club, focusing on speed building and teaching his athletes how to run properly.
One of the lessons Neboh picked up through competing in various track meets included staying away from complacency.
“That’s what we want to pass down to these kids,” Neboh said. “We don’t care how fast you are, there’s always going to be somebody faster but that can’t stop you from getting to the next level. Never be comfortable, and not just in practice but life in general.”
Events like the Cepero Meet and last week’s Nik Moralez Meet have been mutually beneficial for the Neboh family and the athletes they are coaching.
The meets have also helped kids as young as 2 stay active and interact with new people.
Giving members of the West Texas Track Club the chance to see competitors from other cities in the area helps them gauge the level of competition they might see later on in the summer.
Steve Chavez has been a volunteer coach for the local track club for six years, joining after his 11-year-old son Max became a member.
Chavez believes summer track meets are beneficial for kids because they can only get so much out of a normal school schedule.
Competing over the summer helps the athletes cultivate friendships they wouldn’t be able to build at another time.
“They don’t get to see these kids every day at school, they may be across town from each other,” Chavez said. “We get to see a lot of that, a lot of kids that haven’t seen each other in a year.
“They get to come hang out with each other and push each other.”
When Ruiz drove the 130 miles from San Angelo to Odessa, he knew it would be worth it to give his pole vaulters the experiences that have helped so many others around the area.
By keeping the kids in his organization active over the summer, he hopes they can one day achieve the objective of reaching the Olympics.
“That’s the goal,” Ruiz said. “I know several of them and that’s the same pathway they took. If you don’t do summer track, you’re not going to be in the Olympics and that’s a fact.”
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