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Friday, June 23, 2017

Laveen Track Club Teaching Education, Discipline and the Joy of Running

In the world of speed it’s all about miles per hour.

And while the Miles per Hour (MPH) Track Club is all about going fast; there’s a lot more to it. The students who participate in the Laveen-based track club are also learning the importance of education, discipline and how to have fun while working hard.

MPH meets three days a week on the gravel track at Arizona Lutheran Academy in Laveen. Every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this group of 30-plus kids of all ages, shapes and sizes meet at 4 p.m. Sprawled across the metal bleachers in shorts and t-shirts, they settle down as James Gordy, one of the group’s three coach’s shouts out above the din, “Ladies and Gentlemen. Homework, please.”

The children take out their homework packets and begin the first half hour of their two-hour practice session.

“Students are required to work on their homework from 4 to 4:30 p.m.,” said Terry Matthews, head coach and founder of MPH Track Club. “If they’ve already finished their homework before practice, they can read a book.”

Matthews, the father of three, has created the track club to not only teaches kids how to run fast and run well, but how to listen, learn and work hard.

Parents like Michelle Houser, whose 9-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter participate regularly in the track club, love it.

“Everything is positive,” she said. “From 4 until 4:30 p.m., it’s homework time, and they check it. Grades come first.”

In addition to actively supporting students’ academic efforts, Matthews, along with Coaches Gordy and Cliff Cesar or Coach ‘C’ as the kids call him, teach their students running techniques and the value of those techniques.

Once homework time is finished students begin with one or two laps around the gravel track, followed by stretching. Next, they break into groups with each of the three coaches and, depending upon the day, focus on form, time trials, racing, and strengthening and conditioning exercises.

“[Our kids] know how to start at the starter block; how to work their elbows; and how to use more than their feet to help them [run],” Matthews said.

Matthews and his team teach their students how to use their bodies, balance, common sense, technique and leverage to run faster and more efficiently.

“It’s more than just surface,” Matthews said. “There’s more than just taking off running in a straight line. If your form is wrong, you’re not running aerodynamically. If you’re starting off wrong, you’re a second behind the guy in front of you.”

But, just as important as learning technique, is showing up and working hard. MPH kids walk away from practice with discipline and the realization that there’s more to life and to running.

Akil Peterson, whose 9-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son belong to MPH, likes what Matthews is doing.

“Terry is very into what he’s doing,” Peterson said. “He makes a difference; he wants them to learn. He’s enthusiastic. He’s calling [the kids] to put forth the effort.”

Kids are encouraged to try their best; to not give up and to finish the race no matter what.

“One of the rules is you always clap in the last people,” said Houser. And each practice students have the chance to win the Iron Man or Iron Woman award – a much-coveted bottle of Gatorade. Students earn it by listening, participating and trying their best.

Matthews originally started the MPH Track Club in Bakersfield, California to provide a competitive outlet for students who wanted to run beyond the high school track season. When he moved to Laveen with his family three years ago, he left the club behind. But, this past summer a combination of the 2008 Summer Olympics and his wife’s prompting inspired Matthews to start a track club in Laveen.

He began immediately – setting up a 501(c)(3), creating a website, posting flyers and obtaining a practice site. Matthews was so committed to MPH that a month before the club met for the first time he quit his full-time job as a sales manager at 24-Hour Fitness.

On November 11, 2008, five children showed up for the first practice. Less than three months later, the club has almost 75 children on the roster and a group of 30-35 children who show up regularly. The students come from both private and public schools in the Laveen area; some come from as far away as Scottsdale.

MPH Track Club is a non-profit organization and a member of USA Track & Field organization. Students compete in track meets around the state from January through May; racing in events such as 100-, 200-, 400- and 800-meter races and relays.

For more information, or to join or sponsor MPH Track Club, you can visit their Web site at www.mphtrackclub.com.

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