“I took a couple of years off when my son went to college, but Miller came calling back. I had to come back. I just love it. It gets kids involved in something positive.”
Since 1974, Paul Chappell has led what is now known as the Miller Jets – a track and field team composed of kids four to 14 years old. In the upcoming season, Chappell expects a turnout of around 130 youths, mostly from the Central Area.
After graduating from the University of Puget Sound in 1973 with a degree in physical education and a minor in health, Chappell began teaching physical education at St. Mary’s in South Seattle. He then transitioned to Leschi Elementary School, where he taught until his retirement last summer.
Chappell grew up playing different sports. He was a starter on his football team, played Little League baseball, and was a sprinter in track. I asked why he chose track-and-field as a focus for his work with kids.
“In football and basketball you always have starters and those who sit on the sidelines. And in track, everybody gets to run the same amount of events. In our program you can do four things: two individual races, a field event, and a relay; that way, nobody is left sitting on the sidelines,” Chappel said. “We have a big program, and I don’t turn anybody away. There’s nobody who gets cut.”
Added to that, Miller Community Center Coordinator Lori Van Norman said that Chappell organizes scholarships, track shoes, and needed donations for kids who would otherwise be unable to compete.
March 22 marks the start of the next season, which allows young athletes to compete in running, jumping, and throwing events against other girls and boys within their age group. Track events include 50-, 100-, 200-, 400-, 800-, and 1,600-meter individual races, as well as a 400-meter relay event with teams of four (each person on a team runs 100 meters). On the field, events include the long jump, shot put, softball throw, and turbo javelin.
Most kids run through the end of May, competing against other teams from the Seattle Parks and Recreation Department track-and-field program. There’s also a summer program sponsored by Hershey’s chocolate and the Junior Olympics, which involves regional track meets, and youth across the nation.
In the early 1980s, when Chappell’s track-and-field team started thinking about competing in the Junior Olympics, he said, “Well, you need a nickname. How about ‘The Jets,’ because jets are always fast.” And so it was. Their uniforms display a Grumman F-14 Tomcat, one of the fastest jets made.
This year, nine coaches will help Chappell lead the Miller Jets.
“I love it. It’s not work; it’s fun. My son, he’s an assistant coach, and I’ve always had some grandkids on the team,” Chappell said. “And while I was teaching at Leschi, I always had about 60 or 70 kids from Leschi Elementary on the track team. It was and still is like a big family. There are a couple of kids who I teach and coach now, and I taught one of their grandparents when I was working at St. Mary’s.”
In fact, it was working at St. Mary’s that brought Chappell to Miller Community Center. The parent of one of his students, Sam Cook, was the then coordinator at the center, and was on the hunt for someone with a degree in physical education. He asked Chappell if he would join the center as a coach and referee.
“I’ve always volunteered there, my son played basketball there, my grandkids play basketball there, my grandkids ran track there, and they’re running there now. And I live close to Miller Community Center, so my heart has always been there.” Chappell said.
Young athletes interested in joining the Miller Jets can find paperwork and register at their neighborhood community center, then join the Miller Jets at practices in the coming weeks.
For more information about Seattle Parks and Recreations youth sports teams and programs, visit http://www.seattle.gov/parks/Athletics/ythsport.htm.