To Dejon Manning and Da'Avionce Rodriguez, anything can turn into a competition. So when the two sprinters found themselves in the middle of the June 28 Celebrate Lancaster event downtown, they challenged each other to a head-to-head footrace, bolting down the streets in jeans and sneakers as fireworks burst in the sky above.
"Everyone," Rodriguez said, "was watching us race."
The competitiveness and the camaraderie have helped Rodriguez, Manning and the rest of their Lancaster City Track Club teammates shine during the summer track and field season, which culminates with the seven-day USATF National Junior Olympic Championships scheduled to begin Monday in Sacramento, California.
"Even though I do like winning," Manning said, "and I do like traveling — I've never been to California, and that's going to be fun — but if it wasn't for these guys, I don't thinK I would have come back."
Manning was one of the club's standouts at the Region 2 Championships last weekend at Slippery Rock, winning the 100-meter dash (10.97), the 200 (21.84) and the 400 hurdles (54.91), and teaming up with Rodriguez, Amere Dickinson and Theoren McElheny to win the 4x100 (42.40).
"It definitely brings back memories from my first year with the club," said McElheny, who graduated from Penn Manor in 2018. "It's just a good environment, a good group of people I like to work out with every day. They push me to do better."
Manning, Rodriguez and Dickinson forged a formidable 4x100 team during the winter and summer months for McCaskey. Joined by freshman Basir Epps, the Red Tornado won the Lancaster-Lebanon League title before finishing third in District Three and fifth in the state in a races that saw state-record performances from Central Dauphin East and Coatesville. With Epps in the 15-16 age division — he qualified for nationals in the long jump and high jump — McElheny joined the three McCaskey rising seniors with the goal of breaking the 42-second barrier.
"Once our handoffs get better," Manning said, "I think we're going 41 (seconds)."
USATF Junior Olympic Nationals: Event Schedule
The Lancaster City Track Club, affiliated with the Police Athletic/Activities League, also advanced some of its younger athletes to the national competition. Felix Mendez became the club's youngest sprinter to qualify for nationals with a fourth-place finish in the 11-12 age group of the 100 (13.37), and the 13-14 division's girls quartet of Nylah Aguero, Isabella Shertzer, Kamyah Wright and Kamiah Wright won regional titles in the 4x400 (4:12.15, a club record) and the 4x800 (10:12.12).
"It helps me to run along girls who are really good from our team," Shertzer said. "It helps me push myself."
Kiamorey Clark also pushed herself in the 17-18 age group, running segments of the winning 4x100 (49.90) and 4x400 (4:03.23) relays and taking first place in the 400 hurdles (1:06.49).
"I had to build my endurance," she said, "because I really don't finish strong (in the hurdles). At regionals, I finished very strong."
Allura Blake (17-18 girls high jump, 4-11) and Elias Aviles, (17-18 boys 1,500, 4:15.94) rounded out the club's 11 championship performances at the regional meet.
Derek Jennings, McCaskey's head track and field coach, launched the summer club program in 2013. Auntie Anne's, a club sponsor since 2016, helped cover some of the club's travel costs.