by Asaf Shalev
A year ago, head coach Ralph Walker revived the Berkeley East Bay Track Club, a club which he said was a community staple in the 1970s and 1980s that served to encourage children to be healthy.
Walker is a former drug addict who has spent about three years in prison, but has recovered from his abuse of the drug crack cocaine by completing a drug rehabilitation program.
“I don’t want no kids to go through the stuff I went through,” said 54-year-old Walker, who is paralyzed in the left side of his body. “I want them to grow up, go to college and be productive citizens.”
The local chapter of 100 Black Men of the Bay Area, Inc., the national organization committed to improving the community through educational and other programs, sponsors the track club and provides most of the club’s funding for things such as uniforms.
Some parents of children in the club said they like Walker’s goals for the club and that his past does not bother them.
“It might have concerned me if I hadn’t met (Walker) first,” said Tunni Ogunmayin, a parent of two children in the program. “He’s a great guy.”
About 35 runners, ages 3 to 16, now participate in biweekly practices and compete in track meets.
“It’s hard for kids to find things to do,” said Mark Alexander, who heads the health and wellness committee for the organization. “(The track club) is a good mentoring program to reach out and keep kids out of trouble.”
Walker has five assistants who said they share Walker’s positive coaching philosophy.
“It’s not about track really,” said Victoria Galbert, an assistant coach. “We are using track as a vessel to teach kids to focus, obey parents, discipline and life skills.”
During one practice, Galbert, who ran track in Berkeley as a child, directed the children to do a variety of different exercises based on their age and skill-level.
“(The coaches) are really good role models,” Ogunmayin said.
While her 11-year-old daughter Tayo Ogunmayin is a “natural, to say the least,” Ogunmayin said it is not only the children who like to attend practice.
“It’s also for the parents,” she said. “I don’t miss any days.”
Kalid Meky brings his 6-year-old daughter to the club all the way from Vallejo because he said he believes in Walker’s message.
“It’s more than a competition, it’s about youth development,” Meky said. “They work on the inner child, not just the physical child.”