The Jaguar Track Club is dedicated to training young track and field athletes.
Speed. The speed of a big cat or a sleek sports car – that’s what most people will think of when they first hear the word Jaguar. That’s exactly what members of the Jaguar Track Club are aiming for as well. The Jaguar Track Club is a local organization that serves young people who are interested in the sport of track and field. With the goals of developing superior track skills, promoting physical fitness, building self-esteem and discipline, promoting leadership skills and academic excellence, the Jaguar’s motto is “Train your mind to lead, train your body to follow.”
The program was founded by Maurice and Daneen Cooper and Carl Lea of Maplewood and Andrea Johnson of South Orange. The Jaguar Track Club held its first practice on April 8, 1996. Daneen and Carl had run track when they were younger and wanted to provide a similar experience for their own children.
“The vision was to create a program where the athletes have fun, master new track skills, make friends and compete,” said Johnson. “It was essential to develop an environment where children would become gracious winners and learn from their losses while striving to achieve their best on the track, in the classroom and at home.”
Since track is an individual sport where only one person can win, athletes need to learn how to set goals and measure their own success. They do this with the help of coaches who serve as mentors. They learn discipline, focus and dedication to achieving the goals that they set. Success is often measured in tenths or hundredths of a second at a time.
“It’s not about winning,” said Founder and Coach Daneen Cooper. “It’s about doing your best and see[ing] what happens.”
The Jaguar Track Club regularly competes in competitions throughout New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania. However, they also compete in national track meets, such as the American Amateur Union (AAU) Championships, USA Track and Field (USATF) Championships and Junior Olympics. The club has had several All Americans and won numerous national championships in USATF and the AAU meets. Each year several Jaguars are recognized as “Athletes of the Year” by the USA Track and Field Association of New Jersey.
Despite the busy schedule and rather impressive accomplishments, however, Johnson emphasizes that the founders wanted to make sure that community service was a part of the program as well. “Over the years we have held a bone marrow drive, conducted a Run for America to benefit families harmed as a result of 911, conducted college preparation seminars, sponsored SAT prep sessions, organized a can drive to support an athlete with an illness and collected clothing to donate to a local homeless shelter,” said Johnson.
Many former Jaguar athletes have gone on to college on academic or track and field scholarships. “Our athletes have attended 108 colleges and universities and some are now lawyers, physicians, teachers, writers, photographers and coaches,” said Johnson.
Although the team is a program of the South Orange Department of Recreation, it is open to athletes throughout Essex and its surrounding counties. “There has always been a strong presence from the Montclair community,” said Johnson. She cites the fact that one of their first coaches was Lawrence Athill, a hurdle and long jump specialist from Montclair.
Athill’s children, Stephan and Shantal were among the first team members. The tradition of strong Montclair athletes continues today with Montclair native Xavier Donaldson, another long jump specialist, serving as a coach, and Xavier, Jr. and Malcolm Donaldson participating on the current team.
The team has grown from the initial group of 30 athletes to as many as 200 athletes per year. In 2016, The Jaguar Track Club celebrated its 20th anniversary. The celebration included current athletes, their families, past and present coaches and alumni. “The evening was a joyous occasion filled with laughter and tears and the pride and joy of being a member of the Jaguar Family,” said Johnson.
There are no tryouts to become a Jaguar, only a desire to participate fully and adhere to the rules. Athletes can register for the 2017 Outdoor season (March to July) through the South Orange Department of Recreation. Registration will be held at the Baird Center, 5 Mead St., on March 18.
For over 20 years, the Jaguars show no signs of slowing down. “When you have kids who are all in, then we have to be all in,” said Founder and Coach Maurice Cooper.
Johnson, too, sees a bright future for the team. “I am confident that with the foundation that has been built, and with the next generation of committed Jaguar coaches volunteering to mentor athletes, we will be around for years to come. Nurturing tomorrow’s athletes to be successful both on and off the track,” said Johnson.