HAMMOND | Not that Sharon Cooper needed a head start, but there was no use in wasting what she already earned.
"I like to believe that I would have finished college even without a scholarship," said Cooper, who was a two-time state relay champion for West Side before continuing her career at Purdue University.
"But it made a big difference," Cooper said. "I had great support from my family and church, and I always got good grades, but without that track scholarship, I would have probably been like a lot of college graduates -- in debt."
In part, that's the message Cooper tries to convey to many of students she mentors as a guidance counselor in the Gary school system.
"I tell them they could do it, they could get their education paid for," she said. "But they got to start planning ahead."
Two years ago, Cooper founded the No Limits Track Club which trains at Morton High School. She is the president of the club. Fellow West Side state relay champion Inita Harris and former Bishop Noll and Vincennes University track star Robbet Thomas are the coaches.
The club recently qualified nine athletes to the AAU Junior Olympics National Championships held July 31-Aug. 5 in Humble, Tex. The list included regional champions Shawn Stephenson (Youth Boys 1,500 run), Chequina Cooper (Young Women's 3,000 racewalk), and siblings Gerald (9) and Gerrod (12) Tucker in the 1,500 racewalk.
Other Junior Olympic qualifiers included Shana Cooper, Cheffronio Cooper Jr., JaDiah Belk, Nasir Biddings and Saraye Stringer.
Before the club traveled to Texas, it was awarded a $2,500 Responsible Sports Grant offered by Liberty Mutual Insurance. The club was one of 15 youth sport organizations across the country to receive the grant.
"We all rallied the community to get behind this," Cooper said of the online course on mentoring and responsibility in youth sports for coaches and parents that the club asked people to participate in.
"We received a point for each one who logged on and completed the course in the name of our club," Cooper said. "We were hoping to get the grant before we went down to Texas because that's going to cost us a lot, but we still haven't received anything yet.
"When we do get it, we're going to use it for better equipment."