Rancho Santa Fe residents start fundraising effort to send all members of special track team to National Junior Olympics

By Karen Billing

In the stands at the Junior Olympic regionals in Los Angeles two weeks ago, parents of the Mira Mesa’s Millenium Track Club were ecstatic in the stands, screaming, shaking and crying as their 9-year-old sons finished fifth in the 4 x 100 relay team, qualifying for the National Junior Olympics in Baltimore.

The 9-year-old speedsters included Joey Bertsch and Marco Notarainni from Rancho Santa Fe and teammates Mekhi and Elijah.

In the stands that day, though, the excitement faded to disappointment as Mekhi and Elijah’s parents were hit with the realization that they likely would not be able to afford the trip. Coaches Duane and Cap, who donate all of their time to coach the children, would also not be able to attend.

Joey’s mother Marla Bertsch gets tears in her eyes when speaking about the dedication and commitment the coaches make, as well as how being a part of the team is a ray of light for the children.

“These people are the most giving, gracious, deserving and loving people who have little means but big, warm hearts,” said Bertsch. “This means everything to them and their kids…I said, ‘We’re going. We can’t pass this up.’”

Determined to get the team to Baltimore for the July 22-29 event, the RSF parents launched a fundraising drive among their Rancho Santa Fe friends and neighbors with a goal to raise $7,500 for airfare, hotel, car rental and food expenses. The trip costs around $3,500 per family (two parents and child) or $2,500 (one parent and child) and an additional $1,500 each for the coaches.

If they are fortunate enough to go over their fundraising goals, the families will donate the rest of the funds to other Millennium athletes who are unable to attend but are equally deserving of “making their dreams come true.”

In their initial fundraising efforts, generous donations poured in with people donating airline miles enough for six tickets.

“The coaches didn’t know what hit them,” Bertsch said of the some-$4,000 raised.

Joey and Marco first joined the track team, which draws from all over the county, to stay in shape for football. But they caught the bug, were fast and formed a relay team with Elijah and Mekhi that just kept getting better and better. Nobody expected that they would qualify for the regionals, let alone the national competition.

“The boys, as talented and fast as they are, would not have gotten anywhere without the coaches’ commitment,” said Bertsch.  “The love and encouragement that they give to the boys, you can’t put a price on it.”

It is the hope that the coaches, the entire team and their families will be able to enjoy the results of all their hard work and dedication on a national stage this month.

The families have a tax ID number for donations and the fund is being called the Mira Mesa Heroes Fund. To make a donation, contact miramesaheroes@gmail.com

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