Teams and individuals from seven states participated in the Rochelle Stevens Invitational Track Meet on May 28. Courtsey photos

By Wiley Henry

MEMPHIS, TN — More than 30,000 athletes have participated in the Rochelle Stevens Invitational Track Meet in Memphis since 1990, and hundreds of them have earned scholarships, Stevens said.

On Saturday, May 28, athletes from two-to-75 years old competed for prizes in track and field at St. George’s Independent School, a private campus at 1880 Wolf River Blvd. in Collierville, Tenn., a suburb outside of Memphis.

Stevens, who earned her Ph.D. in Christian Education, kicked off the track meet after COVID-19 protocols sidelined the annual event, which drew 600 to a thousand spectators to the stands at prior track meets. 

There were events for younger kids well, including the long jump.

“When 2020 hit…and the track meet was shut down, I didn’t want to be left completely out without being a blessing to the athletes regionally,” said Stevens, an Olympic gold and silver medalist in track and field in 1992 and 1996.

Lowe’s Home Improvement donated 40 laptops that year and Stevens purchased 20 iPads and gifted them to the top performing athletes “who would have participated in my track meet.” 

Athletes who were inactive during the pandemic were gung-ho about participating this year, said Stevens, after calling on them to participate in the 30th Rochelle Stevens Invitational Track Meet. 

The track meet is certified and exposes high school athletes to college recruiters and formal track competitions. It also qualifies them for the Junior Olympics, Senior Olympics, and Olympic trials.

The two-year hiatus only fueled the athletes’ desire to return to competition. Stevens said teams came from seven states to participate: Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and, of course, Tennessee. 

“We have teams and individuals that come in every year from those states to compete between the ages of two and 75 years old,” said Stevens, including dozens of state finalists, state medalists, and state champions that she’s recruited to LeMoyne-Owen College as head men and women track and field coach. 

Her top recruits were in the city competing in the track meet as well, running relays to sharpen their skills and meeting and greeting each other before the fall season commences at LOC: 

Jermaine Dodson, an All American and TSSAA state runner-up last year in the 100 meters and 200 meters, from Melrose High School in Memphis.

Xavier Haley, a state finalist in three events, from Bartlett High School in Bartlett, Tenn.

Charlize Williams, a finalist in the shot put, from Trezevant High School in Memphis.

Nyla Walker, a district finalist, from Melrose High School in Memphis.

Kimona Haynes, a state champion, from Jim Hill High School in Jackson, Miss.

Lajarius M. Youngblood, a three-time state champion, from Columbia High School in Columbia, Miss.

Jalen Jones, a two-time state champion, from DeSoto Central High School in Southaven, Miss.

And Patrina Rogers, from Kirby High School in Memphis, in addition to six state finalists from Florida.

“All the Tennessee kids qualified to go to the state, except one. That’s not bad,” said Stevens, excited about building the team. “I’m sitting on 15 state finalists.”

For the two-to-5-year-olds who have yet to make their mark in track and field, the 50-meter dash was a starter and commensurate with their age. But athletes six and up were able to participate in all the other events, Stevens said. 

Ribbons and medals went to the top six finishers in each track and field event.

The Rochelle Stevens Invitational Track Meet is considered one of the largest independent track meets in the South, Stevens said.

“We’re not associated with the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union), a multi-sport organization, or the USA Track & Field,” the governing body for track and field. 

“I am an independent organization that brings athletes together from all walks of life,” she pointed out. 

The track meet presents a wellspring of opportunities for young athletes, “like the ones I had when I was at Melrose High School,” Steven’s alma mater.

“That’s how I basically got my 20 offers… [It] was because of programs like mine,” she said. “The program was ended and that’s why I started the Rochelle Stevens Invitational Track Meet.”