Former Savannah State University track and field student-athletes are doing their part to give back to their alma mater.
Recently, Savannah State graduate and former track and field star Rondrick Parker, representing the newly formed Track and Field Booster Club, presented a check for $1,500 to his former coach Theodore Whitaker, head coach of SSU’s men’s and women’s track & field and cross country teams.
The money is intended to cover some of the program’s losses due to budget cuts that were handed down after the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy. Whitaker plans on using the new funds to purchase a second pair of training shoes for his current student-athletes.
“It’s great to know that these student-athletes enjoyed their time with us enough to give back,” Whitaker said. “Because of their on the track contributions we were able to reach a level of respect in the track community. Because of them we now have the chance to continue to grow and maintain that level of respect.”
The new booster club has more than 50 members and is continuing to grow.
Carnell Coleman, who graduated from SSU in 2003 says a conversation he had with Whitaker inspired him to start a fundraising drive to help the program.
“Over my years at SSU, coach and I developed a friendship that have kept us rather close. So, talking to coach right after covid lock-downs, I asked how the team was and listening to his uncertainty as to how he was going to not only fund a program but how he was going to give them shoes to run in. So, hearing about how coach couldn’t make ends meet I asked coach if I can raise some money, will he accept it. He said don’t give him any money, donate it to SSU track and field.”
That conversation led to Coleman contacting former teammates to see what they could do. “I went on our Facebook group and let everyone know how coach was always there for us and that we have over 50 people in the group so if everyone donated thirty dollars we could fund shoes for the team. I took the initiative and started off with the first $150 and every week I was going to add $50 more until we met our quota.”
Daunte Saloy, who completed his track career at SSU in 2006 says that the group plans to keep on giving.
“Currently, we are entertaining the idea of establishing a 501(c) and educating previous SSU track & field and cross country athletes with knowledge on the do’s and don’t s of a supporter or booster. This obviously will take some time to go through SSU, state and federal processes but it is absolutely something we have a strong interest in.”
When asked what are some of the ways the group hopes to raise money for the program, Saloy stated that the group would like to be able to receive and provide more in-kind contributions to the athletic program to help the non-revenue sports. He went on to say that equipment is essential to excel in track & field and with the rising cost to outfit programs, donations will go far in purchasing shoes, spikes, uniforms, physical therapy technology, etc. “We hope to absorb some of that burden through fundraising and encouraging community involvement.”
Both Coleman and Saloy said that Whitaker left a lasting mark on their life while they were a part of his track program.
“His first year at SSU was 1997 and that was my first year attending SSU,” said Coleman. “I was not recruited but only ran track one year in high school. I was able to make the track team at SSU. Having no idea about the sport really, I managed to buy in to coach Whitaker’s philosophy and leave it all out for the team.”
Saloy added that “Coach Whitaker has always been an exemplary leader in my life. Although at times my maturity level may not have been able to handle it properly, his relentless tact and genuine care was always something I respected and appreciated. Firm, impartial, and dedicated to the success of his athletes. That’s coach.”
Coleman is currently a high school track coach in West Palm Beach, Florida as well as a licensed realtor. In his 16 years of coaching, he has coached two time Olympic Gold Medalist Tony McQuay and more than 50 Division I athletes. While at Savannah State, Coleman set the school record in the 400m race and was a part of the 4x400m relay squad that also holds the school record. Coleman also qualified for the 2004 Olympic Trials in the 400m.
A native of Marietta, Georgia, Saloy was a mid-distance runner for the Tigers with the 800m being his primary race. Additionally, he ran the 1600m and was on the 4x400m, distance medley, and sprint medley relay teams. He broke the school 800m record that had stood for decades and qualified for the Jr. Olympics. Currently, he is a master sergeant in the Air Force going into his 15th year of service.
Saloy added that one does not need to be a former track athlete to be a part of this giving program. “No matter the sport, support your HBCU’s. We all need to take steps to enhance the HBCU experience. Whether it’s through collaboration, coordination, or self-implementation; do something.”
Anyone wishing to learn more about the track & field boosters can contact Carnell Coleman at 561- 201-6141.