Under an early-morning sun that had not yet started to bake the ground, students from area schools began gathering at the edge of the Brownwood High School track one recent morning. Their attire: shorts and T-shirts in a variety of colors, and running shoes.
The students ages 11-18 in this group, to be followed by a second group ages 5-10 later in the morning were preparing to begin another session of the month-long track camp run by Brownwood High School coach Don Hood.
Hood maintained a friendly banter as the students began transforming themselves from a big group into orderly lines, preparing for warm-up exercises.
"Good morning! You bring me a Gator Aid? You gonna share it with me? Let's go, Collin, where you been, man? You sleep in this morning?"
"My mom did," a boy replied.
"Guys, we're gonna start at the hurdles today "
The track camp is in session the mornings of Tuesday-Thursday. It began June 12 and ends July 13. Hood began the summer track camps when he arrived as Brownwood's track coach four years ago.
Hood is not the only coach at the track. Coaches from other Brownwood schools as well as student coaches assist.
Brownwood High School sophomore Sharday Melvin, who is attending her third track camp, also assists with the younger group. "I like it. It really helps," Melvin said of the camp. Melvin competes in the 300-meter hurdles, triple jump, long jump and mile relay as a Lady Lions.
Hood had already told the students some basic rules on the camp's opening morning. He'd stressed the importance of good posture and proper form when running. Great athletes have good posture, Hood said that morning.
Now, it was time for warm-ups which included two-lap jogs this isn't a race, don't run fast, Hood told the students and a variety of exercises that had the students constantly moving forward including stretches, skips, stepping over rows of hurdles and "acceleration" sprints.
The work became harder as the morning progressed, and Hood and the other coaches took the students through track events including hurdles, relays and long and triple jumps.
"Power out!" Judy Kennedy, a coach from Brownwood High School, urged repeatedly as students practiced long and triple jumps. Step out with power and confidence, Kennedy called out. "I'm fixin' to show you my stuff confidence look up. be strong. Run with your head up. Run tall. Watch me. I'm here and I'm getting' ready one-two, one-two-three-four come out strong! Strong! Strong!"
Later, Hood explained the reason for the track camp. Youth play other sports all the time, Hood said, but nobody "plays track." Hood said the track camp is important for a couple of reasons: it gets the kids out of bed in the morning, and it gets some of them interested in track.
"There's not a sport that (track) doesn't help," Hood said. "I just think it makes them better kids."
To be good at track, Hood said, it takes "God-given ability and a passion to compete."
"They've got to have a competitiveness out them and a spirit about them that makes them compete," Hood said.
Raw speed, Hood said, is God-given, and you can't turn a slow person into a drag racer. Coaching can, however, make a slow person "less slow" and "you can make a fast person faster," Hood said.
Success can be "faked" in some areas of life, Hood said, but in track, success is measured in black-and-white terms: either you cleared the hurdle or you didn't. "There's an honest way to see you're getting better," Hood said.