By BRIAN JENNINGS
A new youth movement is sweeping Southington High School’s track by storm, and it’s the Connecticut Storm Youth Track and Field Summer Club.
According to locals, there has always been an interest from elementary and middle school athletes to participate in a youth track and field program. The only problem is that there weren’t many youth programs in central Connecticut—maybe even none.
For a lot of these towns around Southington, elementary and middle school athletes had to travel to facilities in Bloomfield or New Haven if they wanted to participate in a youth track and field program.
“By and large, there is no opportunity for youth to participate in track and field at that age group,” said CT Storm founder and director Dan Dachelet. “It just doesn’t exist anywhere.”
Dachelet got involved in track and field back in 1983 when he first started running in his community’s youth club, the Bay Area Running Club. From day one when he first arrived as the head coach of the cross country and track and field programs at Southington High School, Dachelet had envisioned a similar youth club for Southington athletes.
At a stakeholder’s meeting a couple years ago, Dachelet called in people from the community and presented the idea of a youth track and field program. Dachelet was hoping that someone in the room would raise their hand and take ownership of the idea, but no one did.
Last winter, Dachelet ultimately decided that he was going to take on the challenge himself. So, he created the CT Storm.
“It’s just not easy to imagine knowing what the steps are on how to do it, and I didn’t think that anyone had the free time,” said Dachelet. “I had to do the research to figure out how to get the club set up and established. I knew that we could do it every couple of days with a core group of people that could take it on and coach it.”
About 24 elementary and middle school athletes flocked to the high school track complex on its inaugural night on June 27. That number has since grown to about 37 with about 60 percent being Southington residents.
“I talked to the Danbury Flyers coach, and I think they had 10 or 12 kids in their first year,” said Dachelet. “We were worried that we weren’t going to get 10 kids the week the signups were going on. And then it just kind of snowballed. If we keep going with it and word continues to spread, I think we’ll be at 60 to 100 kids next year.”
Danbury High School garners one of the most successful track and field programs in the state. But they also have a successful youth track and field association, called the Danbury Flyers.
The CT Storm could potentially serve as a feeder program as well, but the absence of a youth track and field program in the area was more of a concern.
“We’d like to continue to grow the Southington track program,” said Dachelet. “But at the same time, this is definitely a need for the region. It was tough to put on, but I’m glad we did though.”
By creating the CT Storm, Dachelet sees an opportunity to instill the belief that track and field can be the primary sport of these young athletes.
“Maybe there are 10 or 20 kids,” said Dachelet. “Maybe the rest are just doing it for conditioning for other sports or just to try a new sport. But to get that at a younger level and self-identify with that makes a difference. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
Already halfway through the club’s first summer sessions, the youngsters have already made a positive impression on the club’s director, especially from a kinesthetic perspective.
“If you look at the form drills we do with the kids, they’re really picking up on some of these drills a lot quicker than some of the freshmen in high school,” said Dachelet. “It’s almost as if they’re at a more malleable age when it comes to body control with some things.”
These athletes may be younger than high school athletes, but they don’t have trouble focusing.
“They take instruction well and aren’t goofing around,” said Dachelet. “We were worried about what age would be too young for this. It’s a smaller group setting and we can manage it pretty well, but they’re very focused, motivated, and fun to coach.”
According to its website, the CT Storm is a youth club “focused on growing the sport of track and field by focusing on teaching the basics of the sport.” The club is also focused on individual growth, healthy living, and having fun.
The club is open to students entering grades four through nine that are interested in learning about track and field. No prior experience is necessary, and anyone in the state can join.
Sessions run two to three times a week from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday or Tuesday and Thursday. The club is set to officially end on August 18 and will wrap up with a mini end-of-the-year Olympics.
During sessions, athletes are put through general running conditioning. They are also taught the basics of the shot put, high jump, turbo javelin, long jump, and discus throw.
Dachelet is assisted by USA track and field level one or two certified coaches, Connor Green and Nate Mozian. Current and former athletes from the high school’s cross country and track and field programs help out as well.
Although it listed that the club would compete at multiple USATF and AAU meets in the state on the club’s flyer, Dachelet and his staff have not emphasized competition because they want the athletes to have a good time. However, three athletes from the club still participated in the Nutmeg games.
Looking forward to next year, Dachelet is looking to push competition more. He is also looking to run sessions in March and May and hopes to eventually turn the club over to parents, a model he has seen at both Danbury and Bloomfield.
“The high school coaches mentor the parent-coaches, who then take ownership of it,” said Dachelet. “It’s just a lot for a high school coach to go four seasons straight, and obviously, we can’t do it during the outdoor season.”