BY KRISTI REED

The top junior track and field athletes in the state converged in Hoschton last week for the Georgia Junior Olympics Association Championships. The four day event featured 1,497 competitors from across the state.

The top five athletes in each event will compete in the region III Junior Olympics Track and Field Championships scheduled for July 11-13 in Rock Hill, S.C. Gold, silver and bronze medalists from the region meet will advance to the national championships in Omaha, Nebraska. The winners in that contest will have the opportunity to advance to the 2009 International Junior Olympics in Italy.

Meet director Inez Finch said the Junior Olympics provides a healthy environment for young athletes to learn and grow.

“The purpose is to keep them motivated in the sport of track and field and to develop young kids into athletes,” she said. “Most of the kids that run in our program are usually the ones that you notice are outstanding kids in high school.”

Coach Brian Roth of the Atlanta-based Track Monkeys club said the Junior Olympics are all about fun, encouragement and confidence building for young people.

“It’s our premise as a team to find each kid’s God-given talent and then go as far as we can,” he said. “When we go as far as we can with that, that builds confidence and they become better kids and better individuals.”

Roth coaches 42 aspiring track and field stars. Twelve members of his team advanced to the Georgia Junior Olympic championships after placing in the top eight during events at the area-A qualifier last week.

While Roth is proud of his team’s accomplishments, he said he does not measure success by wins.

“If we go out and we win every event but we didn’t gain anything as a person, then we missed the whole boat. If we won a lot of events and we didn’t learn more about what God gave us, then we missed the whole boat,” he said. “If we didn’t have fun, we missed the whole boat.”

Roth said it is important to provide a positive environment for the kids and encourage them to maintain their enjoyment of the sport.

“My real goal is that they’re doing this 20, 30, 40 years from now,” he said.

LOCAL STARS

Several Mill Creek High School athletes competed in this weekend’s Junior Olympics meet. Michael Kopanski, Aaron Chamblee, Brian Graham and Carson Simpson each will advance to next month’s regional Junior Olympics competition. Chamblee and Simpson qualified in the pole vault and Graham qualified in the 400m hurdles. Kopanski qualified in both the pole vault and decathlon.

Kopanski, the first Mill Creek athlete to compete in the decathlon, scored a total of 4,035 points in the ten-event competition. He placed fourth, just 61 points shy of winning the bronze medal. His best performance came in the pole vault where he finished first, clearing 13’.25” He finished third in the long jump; fourth in the 1500m run, high jump, discus throw, javelin throw and 110m hurdles; and fifth in the 100m, shot put and 400m dash.

In addition to qualifying in the decathlon, Kopanski also qualified in the pole vault, finishing second with his vault of 13’ 6”.

With his outstanding performance this weekend, Kopanski continues what has been a very successful year for him in field events. As part of the MCHS track team this past season, Kopanski placed second in the pole vault at the region 7-AAAAA championships and finished sixth in the state AAAAA championships.

Fellow Mill Creek teammate Aaron Chamblee barely missed qualifying for the state high school championships in May, finishing third in the region 7-AAAAA championships.

This weekend, Chamblee competed against top junior athletes to finish fourth in the state in the pole vault. Chamblee cleared 12’6”, also earning a trip to the regional Junior Olympics competition.

Mill Creek’s Carson Simpson, the 2008 region 7-AAAAA pole vault champion and all-region team member, finished sixth at the AAAAA state track and field championships in May, setting a new school record with her vault of 9' 6".

Simpson continued her string of strong performances Sunday, finishing second in the intermediate girls pole vault. Simpson cleared 9’ to advance to the regional competition.

Recent Mill Creek graduate Brian Graham placed fourth in the 400m hurdles at this weekend’s Junior Olympics meet.

Graham holds Mill Creek High School records for both the 110m hurdles and the 300m hurdles. Graham was the 2008 region 7-AAAAA champion in the 300m hurdles and placed second in the region in the 110m hurdles. At state, Graham placed fifth in the 110m hurdles and seventh in the 300m. Graham was also honored as part of the 2008 Gwinnett track and field all-county team.

Graham will be attending Kennesaw State University in the fall on a track scholarship.

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