The Killeen Cruisers track team returned home with six medals after its solid performance at the Amateur Athletic Union’s Track and Field Junior Olympics.
The athletes who earned medals are Bobby Smith (age 17/18 boys division), Devonte Cochran (17/18 boys), Trejon Spiller (14 boys) and Keonna Otis (13 girls).
Smith earned a second-place finish in the discus and shot put competitions; Cochran earned second place in the triple jump; Spiller earned seventh in the pentathlon competition, which includes a mixture of five various events; and Otis earned a second-place finish in the discus and shot put competitions.
“My original goal for the team was to come home with eight medals, and while we didn’t do that this year, I thought the kids all did well, and represented their team well this year,” head coach Billy Spiller said Wednesday.
The Cruisers, who took their biggest group of kids ever — 31 in all — to the event at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, had most of their players fly to Detroit with Spiller, who has been the owner and coach of the Killeen Cruisers since the team’s inception in 1980.
The national meet lasted July 26 through Aug. 5 and by the end of the trip, Spiller said the team was excited and looking forward to next season and planned to use the experience as a motivational tool for next season.
“We rented vans for kids who couldn’t afford to fly home and drove the 15-hour return trip and the whole ride home the kids were talking about how hard they’re going to work next season so they can win more medals next year,” Spiller said.
Spiller said he was extremely proud of all the kids, how hard they’ve worked this season and that he was especially impressed with the amount of family support the kids received at the meet.
“Almost 80 percent of our parents came to Detroit, and all of them were supportive of all the kids,” Spiller said. “I’m happy the kids felt the support of their parents and I hope we continue that kind of effort next season.”
To close out the trip, Spiller and a few of the other parents cooked a big team meal for the kids in the hotel rooms and many of them enjoyed time hanging out by the pool together as well.
In about a month, Spiller will begin his indoor track season training with six to seven kids from the current Cruiser team as the winter will provide increased exposure for the future college track athletes on his team.
“We plan to compete in two major meets this winter: the Carl Lewis Invitational in Houston, and the Texas A&M Invitational in College Station,” Spiller said.
Hundreds of college coaches are expected to be in attendance at both meets.
For the athletes who won’t run in the winter, Spiller said he plans to keep in touch with them and do some occasional training with them as well and review their performances with them individually to better prepare them next season to do even better.
“These kids need as many role models as possible to develop them. If we don’t get a hold of them before 11 or 12, then it will become extremely difficult for them to be successful. This is my way to do my part,” Spiller said.
Spiller was raised in Bay City, near Houston. He and his wife, Christy, have seven children, two of whom ran on his team as kids.
Spiller retired as a sergeant first class in the Army after 37 years of service. During his time as a track coach, he has trained former University of Houston wide receiver Charles West and sprinter Danny McCray, who finished sixth in the 2000 U.S. Olympic Trials.
Spiller also worked for Killeen ISD for 20 years as a track and field official. During his childhood, Spiller competed in various Amateur Athletic Union-sanctioned track meets.