The Federal Way Track Club has reason to celebrate.
Not only is the organization wrapping up yet another successful run at the USATF National Junior Olympic Track &Field Championships in Lawrence, Kansas, it also hit a major milestone.
This year marks the 40th anniversary the club has been in Federal Way. Since it formed in 1977, the Federal Way Track Club has grown into the city’s premier track and field organization.
Barb Tight both incorporated and coached the club with the goal of bringing together the city’s top sprinters to form an elite relay team that could compete on a national level with the hopes of going on to the best college track and field programs in the country. After 40 years, Tight’s vision has come to fruition.
“As the original kids grew older, they brought their siblings to the club,” Federal Way Track Club coach Darryl Genest said. “So that grew the spectrum. It was first all high school, but then it naturally grew into middle school and high school.”
Tight, in 1994, handed over the head coaching duties to Genest, who ran track and field at Eastern Washington, then went on to coach at Federal Way High School and form the running club at Weyerhaeuser.
But it was during his time as an assistant under Tight a few years prior that Genest noticed something odd.
Federal Way Track Club only focused on sprinters. The club, through its first 17 years, did not have a single distance runner.
So, Genest formed and coached the club’s first distance running program prior to taking over head coaching duties.
“I was simply looking for what else we could do,” Genest said. “USTF had a cross country team, so I felt this was something we had to do.”
In 1995, Genest took his first Federal Way cross country team, a group of 13, to nationals. Genest’s brain continued to churn, forming other ideas on how to grow the club.
Genest wanted to create the club’s first-ever “home meet,” and, by 1996, that vision became reality for the Federal Way Track Club.
It became known as The Autumn Classic, which is held at Five Mile Lake in Auburn and typically signifies the first run of the club track season. It celebrated 20 years in 2016.
By the end of 1996, the Federal Way Track Club was as well-rounded as Genest ever hoped it could be. They had sprinters wanting to run cross country and cross country runners wanting to sprint. It even branched out into field events such as high jump.
The club even had to move from Decatur High School to Memorial Stadium at Federal Way High School because the club’s numbers outgrew Decatur’s six-lane track.
“We just got really big,” Genest said. “So, then we had to look at how we could expand while keeping the cost down.”
The challenge for Federal Way Track Club has been staying relevant with USATF practices and social media.
Part of staying relevant meant recruiting more female track athletes. When the club started in 1977, there were none.
Even as recent as 2007, numbers were extremely low.
“Just look at Decatur,” Genest said. “A few years ago, they had to fight and claw to find seven girls just to field the team.”
Genest spent the last 10 years heavily focused on female recruitment, and it has worked.
Since 2014, Federal Way Track Club has brought on more females than males which is a first for the club in its 40 years.
Genest and his coaches accomplished this the same way the club has done it since 1977: Through word of mouth.
Genest used coaches in the school district to recruit athletes from other sports to go out for the club.
The core of female runners the Federal Way Track Club ended up with was made up of softball, basketball and soccer players. It was through that method that the numbers grew and grew.
The Federal Way Track Club has garnered wide-spread attention in 40 years. It’s had members as far north as Bellingham come down and compete on weekends, and has grabbed major sponsors like Reebok and Adidas.
It’s done a lot for the community, too. The Federal Way Track Club was a primary donor for the new track surface at Thomas Jefferson High School, where the club now practices.
“You can’t grow without structure,” Genest said. “And my wife Holly (Genest) has allowed us to grow. She does all of the website and communication work. You don’t grow without that.”
Clubs like the Federal Way Track Club run in cycles.
In the last 12 years, Genest and his staff formulated a plan on how to train and mentor current athletes to become coaches.
The junior coach program formed. It allows junior athletes the opportunity to develop their coaching resume through mentorship. Athletes from the club have routinely returned as college graduates looking to start a career in coaching.
“It’s been fun,” Genest said. “Getting to watch kids in our program come back and coach as adults.”
This year has been a year to celebrate.
Not only is the Federal Way Track Club celebrating 40 years, the club’s numbers are booming.
They have approximately 90 youth athletes in 2017, and four of them are ranked in the top five in the country.
The club has thrived for four decades through evolution and word of mouth, and the Federal Way staple shows no signs of slowing down.
“The group is so supportive,” Genest said. “From athletes to parents. Everyone is just so supportive. I have so many things I want to do, and they’re always like ‘let’s do it.’ They are all the reason we are still here.”