MELISSA – In his quest to make it to July's USATF National Junior Olympic Championships in Kansas, Melissa sophomore sprinter Ja'Bray Young has taken another successful step. At the USATF association meet in Fort Worth on June 24, Young qualified in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes for the regional meet in Humble, Texas, July 8. If Young qualifies there — with a top-eight finish — he can start packing for The Sunflower State.

The National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships will be held July 24-30 at Rock Chalk Park on the University of Kansas campus. This will be the 51st annual edition of this event and perhaps 10,000 young athletes, age 7 to 18, are expected to compete there in six two-age brackets.

At the Fort Worth USATF meet, Young finished in the top eight in a field of well over 100 athletes in both the 100 and 200 meters. Young's time in the 100 was 11.06 seconds and in the 200, 22.01.

“I was shocked and happy at the same time,” Young said. “I didn't think I was going to get to the finals.”

He noted that these meets are much longer that standard UIL meets.

“Everything is the same except for how long the track meet goes,” Young said. “There's a lot more kids.”

Young's father, Lawrence Williams, an assistant football coach for the Melissa Cardinals, said Young may put up faster times at Humble. “I think that he's still a little sluggish,” Williams said, “being the fact this is only his third meet of the summer. But after the regional meet and, hopefully, by the time he gets to nationals, he'll be running close to the times he was heading into the state meet for spring track season here at Melissa.”

Young qualified for the UIL state meet in Austin with school-record times of 10.58 and 21.59 seconds in the 100 and 200, respectively.

“We're excited,” Williams said. “He understands why he runs track, but in the summertime it's not the most fun thing to do.”

Williams also said he thought his son's state meet experience was a plus for this Junior Olympics push, adding that kids at these USATF events are grouped only by age only, not by school classification, “so there's a lot of speed there.”

Young, a standout running back on the Cardinals' football team, said he's been putting in a lot of practice for these meets and calls the endeavor “a new experiment.” He's also a member of Melissa's state-tournament-qualifying 7-on-7 football team.

What are Young's friends saying about his being one step away from the National Junior Olympic Championships?

“I don't think any of my friends really know I'm going,” he said. “Except the ones on my track team. They're pretty happy. The coaches are happy.”

SATF's website, usatf.org, reports that almost 70,000 young athletes participate each year in Junior Olympic track and field and cross country programs. It also notes that many U.S. Olympic athletes began their careers as Junior Olympians, including distance-runner Deena Kastor, hurdler Allen Johnson, decathlete Bryan Clay, shot-putter John Godina, sprinter Allyson Felix and sprinter Maurice Greene.