ALAMEDA -- From Alameda Point through Crab Cove, along Shoreline Drive and over the Bay Farm Island Bridge, runners are a common sight throughout Alameda. And what more appropriate place to find joggers than at Robert W. Crown Memorial State Beach, named for Alameda's longtime assemblyman who was into jogging long before it became trendy.
Fact is, many Alamedans, past (Alameda High School won a state track and field championship in 1954) and present, have taken to running both a recreational and competitive activity. And earlier this year, Island running sports received another boost with the launch of the Don Grant Alameda Point Youth Track and Field Club.
Named for the late Encinal High School track and field coach Don Grant, the nonprofit club serves participants ages 3 to 14 at no charge.
"Right now, I've got about 15 (athletes signed up)," said club founder and head coach Ralph Walker, "but I've got about 20 people on hold."
After an offseason, Walker now looks to start another season, preferably before Nov. 10.
But he needs help to do it -- principally in the form of financial support.
"I want to pay up the whole year (to rent the College of Alameda track) -- $3,000 for the entire year," Walker said. "I'm also looking for $1,000 to repay from last season."
Last season, Walker received backing from the Alameda fire and police associations. For the coming season, he already has met with Mayor Marie Gilmore in an effort to link up with other potential community resources. He also plans to speak with the Raiders.
"I know a lot of people would support this," Walker said. "Once I get the word out, I'll get a lot of support."
For Walker, the club is a labor of love, a way to give back to the sport that he loves and to the communities that nurtured his passion for, and success in, that sport.
Berkeley already has felt Walker's impact. Having set a school and league record for the 100-yard dash that still stands 43 years later at Berkeley High, Walker resurrected the Berkeley East Bay Track and Field Club six years ago. Before moving to Berkeley in his youth, Walker and his family had lived in Alameda's Estuary Housing Project. And at nearby Encinal High, Don Grant was a most respected running coach (today, a memorial plaque dedicated to Grant, who died in 1995, stands near the school's track).
Currently, though, the Don Grant Alameda Point Youth Track and Field Club focuses on younger runners, and Walker hopes to get word out to the Island's elementary and middle schools to attract more members.
Walker also is considering other ways to expand membership.
"At some point, I would like to have adults, too," he said. "If people are willing to train, I'm willing to train them. I'm not going to turn anybody down."
Walker's coaching staff includes East Bay sprint luminary Jim Hines, winner of two gold medals at the 1968 Olympics. The club also hopes to have 1972 gold medalist Eddie Hart at its opening practice, if possible.
In addition, Walker wants to enlist the services of 1968 medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos to help celebrate Black History Month in February.
Around Alameda, though, one likely will encounter more joggers and distance runners than sprinters (Assemblyman Crown helped set the tone with his customary early evening runs; he was on one of these jaunts when he was fatally struck by a car in 1973).
Walker looks to accommodate these runners, too.
"I have a distance coach helping me out this year," said Walker, who quickly gets back to the crux of the matter.
"What I really need is financial support so I can start doing my own fundraisers."
The Don Grant Alameda Point Youth Track and Field Club practices at College of Alameda, except in winter and early spring when it holds its practices at the Alameda Point Gym.
Though the club is not an ARPD program, the department does support the club's mission and acts as its fiscal sponsor. It does not charge the club for gym use.
Those wishing to donate to the club should send their contributions to the Don Grant Alameda Point Youth Track and Field Club, c/o Alameda Recreation and Park Department, 2226 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda, CA 94501.
For questions about the club, contact Walker at 510-776-7451 or at email@example.com.