Newark Memorial High School assistant track coach Jerry Craft looks back on his first year at Richmond High School in the mid-1980s and vividly remembers when his life turned around and who was responsible for it.
“My ninth-grade year I was a knucklehead,” said Craft, now 42. “Then I got a dose of reality, and so that ninth-grade year going into my 10th-grade year, my life changed … for the good.”
Craft's high school is known for one of its most influential coaches in former basketball coach Ken Carter, who padlocked the gym in 1999 on his undefeated team because several players weren’t meeting the academic performances he had set. It was the story that led to the 2005 film “Coach Carter.”
And many years earlier, Craft had his own “Coach Carter” in Richmond's head track and field coach Bernard Stephens. In a much lower profile way, Stephens worked with Craft and taught him “not so much about track but about life,” Craft recalled.
It is part of the reason why Craft chose to coach and why he ventured out in 2010 to start the Audience of One Track Club. He said he has a desire to have more of an impact on kids’ lives, similar to one Stephens had on his.
His role with the A1 Track Club is one he takes on in addition to coaching the Newark Memorial Cougars track team, which he has done for eight years.
”What I found by coaching at Newark is a lot of the kids had already developed their own way of doing things,” Craft said.
The Audience of One Club, which holds its workouts at Newark Memorial High, expanded and Craft credits its growth in the relationships he had built with other coaches at the high school and supporters of the school and its athletic program.
Now the club is in its third year, and Craft and two assistants mentor and train athletes from ages 7 to 18 in sprints and jumps.
“We start each year in October and run through the end of July,” Craft said. “We start early because it’s more than track and field. We talk about academics, study habits and what are their goals.
“We start off slow. We’re not doing much running. We’re preparing their minds.”
As of Friday, when Craft was tutoring four boys as they worked on their relay handoffs at Logan High, he said 11 kids from ages 7 to 12 are in his program, three girls and eight boys. Three are from Newark, Jaelen Craft, 11, the coach’s son; David Coker, 11; and Emilio Cardenas, age 7.
Kids also come from Union City, Fremont and Hayward.
Several athletes in high school work solely with their school teams during the school year, but once their seasons end work out with the club through July.
“I have eight girls from Newark who are ninth-graders who will be starting with me Monday,” Craft said on Friday.
“So what they do with me, we talk about their goals, what theirs are for the next year,” Craft said. “Track and field is just a means.”
The great thing about track and field, the mentor said, is that it’s a great for teaching the core lessons in life.
“You do good one day, and then you don’t the next day,” Craft said. “It’s how you respond (to the adversity).”
It’s some of the successes those he has coached that provide him with the biggest payoff, and not necessarily from their athletic endeavors.
He pointed to a former athlete he coached who’s attending UC Santa Cruz and has just been accepted into medical school.
Craft said, “Those are the things that make you feel good, and the things that are a part of your legacy as a coach.”
Learn more about the A1 Track Club by visiting http://www.a1trackclub.com.