CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - A track club in eastern Contra Costa County is taking steps to keep children off the streets.
The coaches say they create a family among their members, ages 8 to 18, to keep them interested in school and sports
Fifteen members of Full Stride Track Club have qualified for the National Junior Olympics and now they're preparing for that important competition.
"I want to be a track star," said 8-year-old Milani Bell.
The 8 and 9 year old girls recently won first place in the 4x100 relay, and the 4x400 relay in a competition that qualifies them for the National Junior Olympics.
"People are in front of me and I just want to catch them so I use my arms and legs to catch them," said Milani.
The girls credit their success with "We practice and we practice our hardest," said 9-year-old Caliyah Harrison.
And the secret to their success - 13-year-old Jessica Ogu of Pleasant Hill placed first in the long jump competition.
Many of the athletes come from single parent, low income homes in Bay Point, Pittsburg and Antioch.
One mother says she's struggling to keep her daughter safe from the negative influence of some peers, and that this program is helping to keep her child on track .
"Every time she got back to school, She got in another fight, so every other week she was suspended from school," said Tisa Harrison, a parent from Pittsburg.
The girls practice three days a week, almost year round. They're developing not only athletic skills, but more importantly self esteem
"I take it upon myself to find these girls who are just out there and they want to do something but they don't know what to do. They're always a cheerleader and never the athlete," said Coach Juliet Kelly.
Kelly says she wants to teach the girls they can do anything they put their mind to.
The girls say they enjoy relays to running solo. "Because when I run with people, it makes me get faster," said Caliyah.
They learn teamwork. "We can all depend on each other," said 9-year-old Deja Williams of Pittsburg. `
"When they meet new people at the track meet, they just blossom into a flower," said Coach Kelly.
Winning gold next month at the National Junior Olympics is one goal.
But Full Stride says it wants to come full circle in developing these young girls into successful women.