Between 1975 and 1979, George Barnes and Melvin Ware were coaches of one of the most successful youth track organizations in the Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. The majority of the athletes resided in the northwest section of Montgomery County, Maryland. The club was then supported by the Upper Montgomery Athletic Club (UMAC). In 1979, UMAC decided to discontinue sponsoring a track and field program.
In 1979 and 1980, Eugene Neal had been working with a track club in conjunction with the after-school track program he had initiated with the Montgomery County Department of Recreation. Eugene’s club was comprised of youth from three low-income housing developments, Emory Grove, Middlebrook and Stewartown (EMS). The EMS Youth Club, as it was called, participated very successfully in meets sponsored by the Recreation Department. In 1981, due to budget constraints, the County terminated its involvement in the track program.
In the spring of 1981, Eugene Neal, George Barnes and Melvin Ware put their heads together and formed the Firebirds Track Club. The immediate purpose was to fill the void for the youth of the two successful programs who had been left “out in the cold” or “without a viable track program” due to the termination of those two programs. We had three main goals at the time, which have remained our goals even today:
1) successfully train and develop all of our youth to become more knowledgeable about track and field and to reach his or her optimal achievement level of competition;
2) promote the importance of academic success and support our athletes to prepare them to compete in the classroom as well as on the track;
3) reduce obesity by getting the kids moving toward an active lifestyle, focusing on proper nutrition and conditioning.
We have a Board of Directors and an Executive Committee of elected officers that are elected annually. The club is comprised of all volunteer adults, including the coaches, with no paid staff. Our athlete enrollment the first year was 45. We now enroll 150 plus athletes each year between the ages of 5 and 19 with little to no advertisement. Most of the team’s make-up is returnees and referrals. The club has many second- generation runners, and has even had third generation runners come through the ranks.
From the years of 1995 through 1998, the Firebirds included the Football/Cheerleading program from the EMS Youth Club as part of its responsibilities, since some of the same staff was administering both organizations. It was soon concluded that it was too big of an undertaking to run the two together, so the South Germantown Athletic Association was formed to handle the Football/Cheerleading programs.
There is a fee involved for joining the club because of uniform cost, association and membership dues, meet entrance fees, travel fees, hotel fees, equipment and supply costs, to name a few. Our goal is to ensure that no child is denied the opportunity to participate. For this reason we raise funds in almost every way we can: corporate sponsorships, golf tournaments, “fun runs”, sales of Double Good Popcorn, our annual Firebirds Community Day, donations, grants etc. We have aligned ourselves with many organizations to make all of this happen. In one special fundraiser, the Run-a-Thon, we’ve made it a community service project for the athletes annually, whereby, a part of the funds raised are donated to Children’s Hospital on behalf of the club.
In 2008, the club established our Indoor track program. The indoor program provides mainly non-high school athletes the opportunity to train and compete during the winter months and has experienced much success since its inception. The program continues to grow with more athletes, coaches and staff participating each season.
As you can see, the Firebirds Track Club has evolved into more than your ordinary youth sports organization. We work to train and develop the “total being”.