ALAMEDA -- Ralph Walker makes it a priority to give back to the community.

He's also big into track and field.

Walker, a former Berkeley High School track standout who still holds the school and league record that he set for the junior varsity 100-yard dash in 1970, restarted the Berkeley East Bay Track and Field Club six years ago. He's looking to start a similar effort in Alameda with the Don Grant Alameda Point Youth Track Club, which he will head in conjunction with the Alameda Recreation and Park Department.

"I want to target kids in Alameda because I grew up in Alameda," said Walker, who attended Longfellow and Chipman schools before his family moved to Berkeley. "I ran track and field for the ARPD when living at the Estuary Housing Project."

The soon-to-be-started club, named in honor of the late Encinal High School track and field coach Don Grant, will serve boys and girls ages 3 to 14. As it is with the Berkeley club, athletes participate free of charge. And though the club's name has Alameda in it, they don't have to be city residents.

"All kids are welcome," Walker said. "Mostly, we want to keep it fun."

Surely, some of the young participants will find track and field to their liking. And given the number of disciplines the sport offers (sprints, distance running, field events), many will find a niche in at least one of them. At this level, too, the sport is not overly competitive and lends itself to a congenial atmosphere.

But as it is with other clubs, the Don Grant Alameda Point Track Club looks to offer much more than just an athletic outlet.

"It's really not just about the track and field," Walker said. "It's about developing kids into good role models, about making the right choices like going to school and getting a good education. You've got to get this into kids' heads when they're young."

Along the way, the young athletes will receive firsthand experience in sporting activities with roots thousands of years old. In addition to runs of various distances, the club will introduce young athletes to such events as hurdles, the long jump and even the shot put.

"It'll be what the kids are talented toward," said Liza Besso, an assistant coach for the club and self-described "health fanatic," who has run distance events. "Some people are just more geared for endurance, some are more into speed."

For purposes of early conditioning, the club will meet Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 3:30-5:30 at the Alameda Point Gym (1101 West Red Line Ave., starting Tuesday. When the weather improves, perhaps sometime in March, the action will move outdoors. Possible sites include College of Alameda or Encinal High School.

Actual meets, beginning later in March, likely will take place at Laney College, Cal's Edwards Stadium and possibly Berkeley High School.

"Most of the track meets are local," Walker said.

Of course, some of the more successful athletes potentially could go on to compete in regional, and perhaps national, meets outside the area.

In addition to himself, Walker has enlisted the help of Besso and John Boston -- a former McClymonds High and Merritt College runner -- to help coach the team. Also serving as assistants will be 1972 and 1976 Olympic pentathlete Marilyn King and two-time Olympic gold medalist Jim Hines (1968 men's 100-meter run and 400 relay), a former McClymonds runner (class of 1964) once considered the world's fastest human.

"All the coaches are USA Track and Field certified," Boston said.

Now they hope that some of their experience will rub off on their young charges.

"Every kid has the potential to be an athlete," Besso said. "(As an athlete), you also learn to set and achieve goals. As you hit goals, you gain confidence."

Thanks to the interest in giving back to the community of Walker and his fellow coaches, the Don Grant Alameda Point Youth Track Club promises to have a positive effect on the lives of its young athletes.

FYI
Like the Berkeley East Bay Track and Field Club, the Don Grant Alameda Point Youth Track Club is a nonprofit organization. In his past experience, Ralph Walker has held fundraisers, such as car washes, to pay for such expenses as uniforms. The club also is looking for sponsors.
"We're trying to reach out as much as we can," Walker said.
Potential sponsors and those interested in joining the club can contact Walker at ralphwalker27@yahoo.com.