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RACINE — The Wisconsin Panthers track and field team showed up for their second year ready to compete.

Wisconsin Panthers
The Wisconsin Panthers with their coaches: (front row, from left) Quintin Jones, Shakilah Williams, Jasmine Schmidt, Jamier Mosley, Demontae Collins. (Middle row, from left) Noah Payne, Madden Phillips, Rigoberto Escobedo, Miguel Rios, Ayden Semour, LaCole Ferron, Taylnn Pinager, Tyree Bumbry, Michael Payne (back row, from left) Vonta Rokket, Alexus Long, Elijah Senft, Giovoni Gonzalez, Nicholas Payne Jr., Jayden Payne, Wilshaun Thompson. Credit: Dee Hölzel

The team had 12 athletes qualify for the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) Junior Olympic Track and Field competition, which will be held July 31-Aug. 6 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Last year was their first year competing at the national level with three athletes representing Racine.

Nicholas Payne Sr., who organized the Wisconsin Panthers, called attending the national competition “a life-changing experience.”

Wisconsin Panthers
(from left) Madden Phillips and Rigoberto Escobedo are shown running laps before practice. – Credit: Dee Hölzel

“We want our athletes to have the star treatment. If they’re treated like a star, they’ll act like a star, move like a star, and make quality star decisions, and be able to go to college and more.”

Nicholas Payne Sr.

He described the athletes standing on the field while the announcer calls their name and they appear on television for their family and friends to see.

“We want our athletes to have the star treatment,” he said. “If they’re treated like a star, they’ll act like a star, move like a star, and make quality star decisions, and be able to go to college and more.”

Looking forward to Des Moines

The team heading to Des Moines has some familiar faces as well as some new ones.

Nicholas Payne Jr., 12, who scored two medals last year in the 100- and 200 meters, will be competing again.

Nicholas is going into the 7th grade at Starbuck Middle School. He has been working out at home in preparation, which has paid off as he is undefeated in the season.

Wisconsin Panthers
Jasmine Schmidt is shown running laps before practice. – Credit: Dee Hölzel

His advice, “Keep working it; keep pushing it. Every lap, every rep, just keeping working it.”

They call Nicholas “Ghost” because he is just that fast. One minute he’s there and then – poof – he’s gone.

Wisconsin Panthers
Giovoni Gonzalez is shown stretching before practice. (shown left) Elijah Senft and (shown right) Wilshaun Thompson. Credit: Dee Hölzel

Nicholas said he will probably medal again in the 100- and 200 meters, but he had doubts about the 400 meters, explaining he is better in the shorter sprints.

Nicholas will be joined this year by his older brother, Jayden, 11, and his younger brother, Noah, 10, who did not get to go last year because he had COVID.

How did it feel to get left behind? Noah said he was “jealous and bored.”

Noah is running in the 100-, 400-, and 800-meter races, but he is racing in the 11-year-old group due to his November birthday.

He predicts he will make it to the finals.

Jamier Mosley is competing in the 100-, 200- and 400-meter races. He said he was most likely to medal in the 200- or 400 meters.

Mosley is undefeated in AAU competition.

The thing about track, he said, “if you do the work right, it pays off.”

Wisconsin Panthers
Quintin Jones and Jayden Payne run laps before practice. – Credit: Dee Hölzel

At least it did for Mosley, who finished first in all three of his races at the qualifying competition.

LaCole Ferron, a third grader at St. Joseph’s School, said the best part of track is “100% the running.”

Ferron competes in the 1500- and 800-meter races and feels confident she will medal in the 800 meters.

Getting in shape

When Payne Sr. started the Wisconsin Panthers in 2022, it was not necessarily to prepare a team for national competition. He was just looking for ways to get the athletes conditioned for football.

The experience turned out to be a win-win.

Payne Sr. explained there are many benefits to a summer track and field team, a time of year when young people have more free time and may get into trouble.

“This is good for the community and good for kids,” he said. “It’s keeping them busy and out of trouble.”

The most important factor, however, is safety.

Payne Sr. explained youth participating in track and field will practice 6-8 hours a week. That is 6-8 hours a week when they are with their coaches and mentors – and not running the streets.

He calls it 3PS: three percent safer.

The athletes are also learning a lot about discipline. Track is not just about running, Payne Sr. explained. The athletes have to be taught the correct way to start the race, how to hold their body and arms, and how to properly breathe during the race.

Wisconsin Panthers
Shakilah Williams and Quintin Jones are shown running laps before practice. – Credit: Dee Hölzel

Matt Ferron returned for the second year as the head coach. Ferron ran track himself and was a state athlete.

Expanding opportunities for Wisconsin Panthers

Payne Sr. is growing the team by attending school track meets with flyers that advertise the Wisconsin Panthers. He would like to see more high schoolers participate.

However, word is also getting out about the opportunities with the Wisconsin Panthers.

“With the success that we had last year, kids started to see it and they wanted to join it,” Payne Sr. said.

He is also working to remove cost barriers that might prevent some youth from participating, and he is looking for grants to help lower the cost of participating as some parents cannot afford the cost of traveling to competitions.

“We don’t want anyone to qualify for nationals and not get the opportunity to be there,” he said.

The team has held some fundraisers and Payne Sr. said everyone was “grateful for the support of the community.”

Those who would like to support the Wisconsin Panthers can visit the GoFundMe titled “Help Wisconsin Panthers Reach National Olympics!” by clicking the button below.


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