Kentucky Fillies head coach, Tamika Townsend, has one piece of advice for all track & field spectators and competitors – “Follow the Pink.”
Townsend, the head coach and CEO of the pink uniformed Kentucky Fillies, is a former track star who has coached youth track & field for the past nine years. In 2011, she decided to create her own lane by establishing the only all-girls track team in the state of Kentucky.
The Fillies are based out of Louisville and compete in the AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and USATF (USA Track & Field) leagues. The Fillies are geographically located in Region 6, which represents athletes from KY, IN, OH, TN, & IL.
In the five years of existence for the Fillies – the club has racked up some pretty impressive stats. The newly formed all-girls squad has forced many of the well established national teams to “Respect the Pink” by dominating the gold, silver and & bronze medal counts at many district, regional and national track & field meets. In addition, the Fillies have been invited to the Jr. Olympics (Nationals) – all five years that the club has existed.
“We go to the Nationals every year. All five summers, all of my girls have went to the Nationals and actually ‘metaled’ at the Nationals – and you have to be within the top eight in your age group in order to get on the podium. Last year I took six girls and we brought back eight metals. So I have two national champions on my team and I have six girls who go to Nationals in all three of their events, every summer.” – Tamika Townsend
Being invited to the Nationals isn’t an easy feat. Runners must first qualify by ranking within the top 16 (in their event & age group) – within their district (Kentucky). They then advance to the Regionals. Next they must finish within the top 2 in their heat or the next four best times – to advance to the Junior Olympics (Nationals).
Once the runners arrive at the Nationals, they run a preliminary race against approximately 100 or more girls (in their event & age group) from every region across the country. Only the top 24 girls advance to the next round.
Next is a semi-final heat, which lowers the pool of athletes to the top 8. All of the final 8 athletes are classified as the top 8 in the nation (in their event & age group) and will compete against each other in the final heat. The outcome of the event will determine who receives the gold, silver, bronze etc., but all the top 8 finalists receive medals.
Being that Townsend runs a small independent track team – funding is often an issue. The larger, more established teams are often backed by corporate sponsors – whose funds cover travel, uniform and coaching expenses.
Townsend makes due by charging a reasonable membership fee for each child, requesting donations from the parents, receiving partial sponsorships from local small businesses and earns the rest by holding fundraisers.
Some parents can’t afford the membership fee, so their children compete on scholarships provided by fundraising. Townsend is also very fortunate that her church, Pleasant View Missionary Baptist Church, has donated funds to the Fillies throughout each of their five seasons.
Despite the local fundraising – the Fillies often come up short of revenue and Townsend is forced to pay out pocket for expenses. In turn, sacrifices have to be made but Townsend uses these obstacles as bonding moments with the girls.
For instance, instead of having the luxury of traveling in luxury conversion vans or chartered buses to out-of state track meets – Townsend, her assistant coaches and a few parents, transport the girls across the country in their personal vehicles.
The girls love the experience with “Coach T” as they call her. For many, it is their first time leaving their home state, lodging in motels and experiencing different cultures. When on the road, Townsend always finds the time to treat the team to recreational entertainment, as long as they keep up their end of the bargain when they compete on the track.
Townsend runs a tight ship. She requires that all her athletes give 100 percent on the track. They train and practice extremely hard in preparation for their meets. The hard work isn’t just for vanity and bragging rights – it’s to possibly secure college track & field scholarships for the girls. Coach “T” constantly reminds her girls that there are plenty of “full-ride” college scholarships available from prestigious schools, for elite athletes.
Understanding that college is expensive these days and many of her athletes come from low-income or middle-income households that may not be able to afford college tuitions – Townsend emphasizes the importance of “giving it your all” to the girls when they compete.
“I prepare my girls for life after track & field because they can’t run forever… They are to use their trade, which is track & field, to get them to college. All of the girls on my track team have to maintain good grades… My goal is to have them all run in college and allow track & field to pay for that.” – Tamika Townsend
Not only is Townsend a coach to the girls – she is also like a mother figure and a friend. On Saturday June 26, 2016 – I traveled from Louisville, Ky to Lexington to watch the Fillies compete in a District meet.
I was amazed at what I witnessed once I arrived. I walked over to the Fillies pink tent – and most of the team of 22 were getting a break from the 90+ degree heat, by relaxing under the tent, drinking Gatorade and water.
Many of the girls were awaiting their next event, so this was their downtime. The track team ranges from ages 7-17, so the younger kids had grouped themselves together, while the older girls relaxed on the opposite side of the tent.
Everyone was all smiles and the younger girls were playing among themselves goofily like kids their age often do. However, once they were notified that it was time to compete in their event – they switched into a totally different gear.
The smiles left their faces and were replaced with the serious look of competition mode. It was now all business. I asked one of the young girls if she was ready to compete and she replied with extreme confidence, “I’m ready to win… We don’t come here to lose.”
These girls meant business. As they entered the track, Townsend began giving them love and advice at the same time. In one breath she would say “Don’t worry, you got this – we trained for this” and in the next breath she would follow with, “Make sure you push through the curve”; translation: “Make sure you accelerate hard through the curve.”
After the race – Townsend greets the girls at the edge of the track and gives them words of encouragement, followed with constructive criticism – despite the outcome of the race. Even the first place winners were lovingly given tips on how to perform better. This approach seems to bring the best out the girls – while still allowing them to have fun and enjoy the sport at the same time.
“I am impressed with the caliber of talent in such young girls… Their drive… It’s so hard to see youth these days actually be motivated for something – and to see all these girls come out and like literally leave it on the track is very impressive… These girls are here to work. It’s like a job. They clock in and do what they are supposed to do – and they take the criticism well and they’re always trying to push themselves to be better.” – Shia Daniel – assistant coach of the Ky Fillies
After each event, the Fillies would all return to the tent – crack open bottles of Gatorade and water – and return to the goofy little girls that I witnessed prior to the race. These girls really seem to enjoy the camaraderie of being on a team and they seem to really enjoy being good.
All in all, the Fillies would have a pretty impressive day. The team left the Lexington, KY meet with ten – 1st place wins – twelve – 2nd place wins – and seven 3rd place wins.
Townsend explained to me that initially the other teams didn’t necessarily respect her club due to it being an all-female, all African-American team. She says that the all-female criteria was by design but being all African-American wasn’t part of the plan.
The Fillies welcome all nationalities, but thus far – only African-Americans have applied to join the team. Regardless, Townsend has forced the other teams to respect her movement.
“When you see pink out in front – then we’re respected. We do a lot of work at practice so at this meet today, I expect every last one of them to qualify for the Regionals. I don’t have anything less of a goal for them. They all know that in all the races, they are to qualify for Regionals because we put in the work at practice.” – Tamika Townsend
Townsend emphasizes that the girls have an academic goal and a track & field goal to achieve each week. Even though they compete during the summer months – education is still the number one priority in her coaching repertoire.
“What I enjoy most about coaching is helping the girls reach their goals and helping certain girls that may have low self-esteem, as well as building my program to be empowering for girls.” – Tamika Townsend
The relationship between coach and athlete isn’t limited to the summer track & field season. Coach Townsend routinely checks up on the girls during the school year and many of the girls invite her to their school events. The impact that Townsend has on these young ladies will most likely create a bond for life.
15 year-old Kaleb McDonald has run with the Fillies for three seasons and has drastically seen herself improve after working with Townsend. She is currently the third fastest female freshman in the state of KY, in the 100 yard dash, and appears to be on a path to win a national title before she’s 18 years-old.
“My best time in the 100 is a 12’1. I was running a 13 when I first started running. I came in with undeveloped talent. I had it but it was hidden…The most difficult thing for me to learn was technique. I used to keep my head down, fist balled up, knees not getting up… I’ve been to the Jr. Olympics all three years that I’ve been here. In my 7th grade year I medaled in three events.” – Kaleb McDonald
The Fillies practice at Fairdale High School in Louisville, KY from 6pm-8pm, Mon, Tues, Thurs & Fri., during the months of May – August. Coach Townsend believes that participating in track & field, or any sport for that matter, helps keep young people off the streets and out of trouble.
She wishes that her girls were able to practice year-round but unfortunately Kentucky does not have any facilities available for year-round use.
This summer the Fillies have athletes competing in the 100, 200, 400 & 800 yard dash – the hurdles, shot put, long jump and high jump.
To enroll or for more information about the Kentucky Fillies – please access their website at kyfilliestc.wordpress.com
The Fillies are also in need of sponsors and/or donations. If interested, please access the “Contact Info” section of the website kyfilliestc.wordpress.com.