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Form over function: Former Boston English, Arkansas runner teaches basics to city track athletes

Posted by Justin Rice  May 14, 2012 08:39 AM

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Pavel Dzemianok for the Boston Globe

Former Boston English High and University of Arkansas middle distance runner, Said Ahmed, started Boston United Track and Cross Country last summer. The organization offers Saturday track clinics at the Melnea A. Cass Recreation Complex from November to May and at Madison Park High School during the summer months.

Some of the best and most disciplined athletes in the city will descend upon White Stadium Monday and Tuesday for the Boston City League /Track & Field Championships.

One common denominator between all of the athletes competing is that each team is led by one full-time coach, along with the help of volunteers.

That’s why former Boston English High and University of Arkansas middle distance runner, Said Ahmed, started Boston United Track and Cross Country last summer. The organization offers Saturday track clinics from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Melnea A. Cass Recreation Complex (120 Martin Luther King Blvd.) from November to May and at Madison Park High School during the summer months.

Ahmed, 29, said while suburban teams often have a head coach for boys’ and girls’ track along with coaches to teach sprint, distance and jumping events, Boston schools only have one fulltime coach for both boys’ and girls’ track.

Ahmed's clinics teach basic fundamentals of running that the city's track coaches don’t always have time to address during practice.

“When you have 20 or 25 kids how are you going to teach every kid what they need to know?” the former Charlestown High track coach, said. “The reason we created this is so the kids, during their own free time, can come here during the weekends. This clinic is for them to pick up little details that they are missing and a lot of things that will prevent them from getting injured.”

O’Bryant track coach, Jose Ortega, who has won 18 outdoor city championships and 16 indoor city championships, said he has two volunteer coaches that come to practice and meets when they can. He said he tries to get his athletes to attend the clinics as much as possible.

“That’s another outlet for coaches who can’t get volunteers, who can’t do it all, that’s a great outlet for kids to go on the weekend and get extra help,” Ortega said. “It’s just like tutoring. They are getting tutored on the techniques so they can better perform.

“I’m always sending my kids there. The problem is do they go? A lot of them do live in certain parts of the city that they can’t get to it. I always encourage the kids to go there.”

After graduating from English High in 2001, Ahmed attended Arkansas on a track scholarship and graduated in 2005 with a double degree in sociology and criminal justice. Ahmed, who competed in the mile, 800- and 1,500-meters, also ran professionally for Nike until 2009. He has since worn several hats at Charlestown High, including dean of discipline, community field coordinator and track and field coach.

Currently a community field coordinator at the Jeremiah E. Burke School, Ahmed gave up coaching track at Charlestown High two years ago because he realized he didn’t have time to teach all his athletes properly. Last summer he started the Boston United program.

The clinics are for all ages and usually feature five local track coaches, including Boston schools throwing coach Ted Loska and Emmanuel College coach Tony DaRocha.

One of Ahmed’s former Charlestown athletes, sophomore Ahmed Ibrahim, has used the clinics to improve his skills.

“It gives us the basics of running,” he said. “You practice your form, you practice drills, those little things you do in a race you can do on Saturdays and during the week you can do the actual running. Some guys hurt themselves during the week so it’s really good to come on Saturdays to practice your form and get yourself straight.

“You need extra focus on [the fundamentals.] Coach can give you some advice during the week but he’s not going to be able to go over the whole thing. So we devote one whole day practicing the aspects of running.”

But Ibrahim said he also likes the intimate nature of only having one coach during the week that he can get to know well. Former O’Bryant and UMass-Lowell cross country runner, Ruben Sanca, agreed. He said only having one coach in high school taught him how to learn on his own.

“It made me a little bit more independent,” said Sanca, who graduated from O’Bryant in 2005 and now works at UMass-Lowell. “When you got to college that’s what happens, you have 90 other people on your team and you have to become a little bit independent to learn from yourself and move on.”

In town for last month’s Boston Marathon, elite runner Desiree Davila, said it would be tough to run in a program that only had one fulltime coach.

“Even for one coach to get a number of kids out and organize a run for them is hard because it’s a lot of numbers,” said Davila, who sat out this year’s Boston Marathon to focus on the London Olympics this summer. “So to be able to put in all that extra work I’m sure it’s a huge task.”

Davila, who was second in last year’s Boston Marathon women’s race after running the fastest American women’s time ever, helped run John Hancock’s second annual Scholars and Stars-World Class Athletes Inspiring Teen Achievers during last month’s Boston Marathon. The clinic gave 150 students from Boston the opportunity to participate in four interactive stations facilitated by the elite athletes at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center.

“Sometimes it’s not the main thing, it’s not going to school and showing up,” Davila said. “It’s studying, it’s going home and reading and things like that. The more opportunities like this that they have hopefully they’ll get excited about that and they’ll seek it out on their own and when that becomes an option maybe more opportunities will be created for them as the need becomes bigger.”

Ahmed certainly hopes Boston United Track and Cross Country gets bigger. And he said that he would like to see a day when all 19 high school track teams in the city pool their resources and train together with coaches who specialize in different events. Ahmed acknowledged the logistical challenges of holding one practice for every track team in the city, especially during the spring season when, unlike the indoor season, several schools have their own track to practice on.

“But again, where do you benefit the most?” he said. “Is it for the kids or [the coaches] convenience? Pool your resources and maybe you get some college interns who graduated high school and want to get experience in coaching.”

Justin A. Rice covers Boston Public school athletics. He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.

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Several reporters, editors and correspondents contribute updates, news and features to the BPS Sports Blog:
  • Justin A. Rice -- A metro Detroit native, Rice is a Michigan State University (Go Spartans!) and Northeastern University graduate. Rice lives in the South End with his dog and wife, who unfortunately attended the University of Michigan ... his wife, that is. He curates the BPS Sports Blog and is always looking to write about city athletes with great stories. Have an idea? He can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeJustinRice or @BPSspts.
  • Ryan Butler -- A Rhode Island native and avid Boston sports fan, Butler played basketball, baseball and football throughout his time in Barrington Public Schools. Now currently in his middler year at Northeastern University, he joins Boston.com as a correspondent for the site's BPS coverage. Have a story idea? Contact him at butler.globe@gmail.com. Follow him on his Twitter @butler_globe.
Also expect updates from Boston.com High School sports editor Zuri Berry and the Globe staff.