Rantoul — When George Washington IV started the Rantoul Rockets in 2016, the vision he had was to give kids an opportunity to do something athletic during the summer.
“I wanted the kids to have an affordable way to compete in a summer sport, more specifically in a community based program,” he said.
Washington said the Rockets becoming a nonprofit organization means they are that much closer to their original goal.
“Becoming a 501(c)(3) comes with the benefit of being tax deductible.” Washington said.
The Rockets don’t just give athletes the chance to compete; they give them the chance to succeed. There are a total of 15 athletes in the organization, nine of whom will compete in this weekend’s Central Region qualifier hosted at Joliet’s Memorial Stadium.
The Central Region consists of 120-plus teams from Illinois and Indiana. The top six athletes from each event will qualify for the AAU Junior Olympics, which will be held in Greensboro, N.C.
The Rockets competed in the Central District championships earlier this month that qualified the nine competing in this week’s Junior Olympic qualifier.
One of the meet’s top performers was Myejoi Williams with first-place throws in shot put and discus in the women’s 17-19-year-old division. Williams’ throws were 43-06.50 feet in the shot and 123-9.00 feet in the discus.
Tanaya Young also had a great showing for the Rockets, placing first in the 15-16 girls long jump with a leap of 18.01 feet and placed 7th in the 100-meter dash.
Robert Buford had a good showing for the boys. Buford placed 5th in the 17-18-year-old boys 110-meter dash. He placed 6th in the 400-meter dash and 8th in the 200-meter dash.
The team motto for this year printed on the back of the uniforms is “Make ‘em believe.”
Washington said he wants the kids to believe in themselves.
Also, “I want them to show the public and other teams that they are working to better themselves and to promote the foundation.” he said.
Washington placed third in the state in 2015 in the 2A long jump. He said it means a lot to him to be able to teach kids and see them get better
“For me to know kids believe in the vision and they trust in the process and stick with it, it’s just awesome to watch,” he said.
The Rockets had seven athletes last year make it to the AAU Junior Olympics, and Washington hopes to have more than that this year.
“We have nine kids competing next weekend, and I expect most if not all to qualify”
The Junior Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 3 in Greensboro, N.C.