Local athletes earn trips to AAU Junior Olympics

Published 5:40 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2023

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NILES — The efforts of two dozen young athletes from the area have paid off in the form of an opportunity to compete on a national stage.

24 members of the Team Love Track club team qualified for the AAU Junior Olympic Games, which take place July 25 to August 5 at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. The regional qualifier meet took place Thursday, June 29-July 2 at Ypsilanti High School.

The names of qualifiers and the events qualified for are as follows:


8U boys 400 meter relay: Andrew Love, Caleb Patterson, Carter Brand, Chad Patterson

13/14 400 meter relay: David Rodriguez, Daron Fuller (Three Rivers), Lucas De Bortoli, Zach Zietlow

15/16 400 meter relay: Aydan McCarey, Dalton Furkis (Berrien Springs), Jackson Palmer (Three Rivers), Alex Anderson

14 boys 100 meter hurdles: Fuller

14 boys 200 meter hurdles: Fuller, Zietlow

14 boys long jump: Fuller

14 boys high jump: De Bortoli

14 boys shot put: Rodriguez

15/16 boys 400 meter dash: McCarey

15/16 boys 110 meter hurdles: McCarey

15/16 boys long jump: Anderson


9/10 400 meter relay: Ava Billinglsey, Autumn Billingsly, Hannah Patterson, Aubriana Holmes

11 80 meter hurdles: Haylei Patterson

13 100 meter hurdles: Madison Kessler

13 long jump: Loryana Harris

14 100 meter hurdles: Nariyah Jones

14 200 meter hurdles: Jones

15/16 400 meter relay: Izabel Hoskin, Tessa Deering (Dowagiac), Andranae Love, Shamyra Clark (Dowagiac)

Founded two years ago by former Niles track standout Andre Love, the program has grown to 33 athletes ranging from 5 to 18 years of age from throughout Southwest Michigan who compete in indoor and outdoor meets across the state. The team practices Monday through Thursday with a rest day on Friday before competing in meets on weekends.

“First of all, I want to give God praise,” Love said. “I was just trying to let people know that there is something for young people outside of the streets, outside of basketball, which is good. I coach basketball with (Niles boys coach) Myles Busby but not everyone can play basketball. Everybody can’t play volleyball or baseball, sometimes it’s very expensive. So creating this track club where we could keep costs at a minimum and give kids an opportunity to come out and just do what they do. Because all these kids out here play volleyball, they play basketball and other sports but a lot of them out here really love to run track.”

Love said he created the program to prepare athletes to compete at the AAU Junior Olympic Games and is proud of his team’s efforts.

“It’s just amazing that we can say we have 24 kids going to (Drake University’s campus) in Des Moines, Iowa,” he said. “The truth of the matter is some of these young people would never be able to see a track like this. Team Love gives them an opportunity to run against some of the fastest kids in the state of Michigan. In one meet we ran, we had kids from Chicago, Ohio and Indiana because that’s what you do, you try to bring the best of the best.”

Love believes his team’s success showcases the quality of talent in Southwest Michigan.

“I’m honored to say I’m from Niles. I love it,” he said. “Niles has some talent, Dowagiac has some talent, Three Rivers has some talent, Edwardsburg has some talent.”

Since the start of its season, Love said interest in participating and supporting his club has increased. A website that will feature easy-to-access information about the club is in the works. For more information about Team Love Track and how to get involved, contact Love at icarechhurchniles@gmail.com.

“It’s growing and I’m just excited about it,” he said. “I just feel like everybody needs to know that our kids are doing something amazing. We have a trip platform next week to Michigan Adventures and we’re just trying to help get donations because it’s going to be expensive to take that many kids to Des Moines to run at this level. I just thank God for all of it. It’s like a dream come true.”