The 50th Avis Kelley Track and Field Invitational at Gilroy High on March 25 went off like usual, with hundreds of athletes from the South Valley and beyond competing in the annual event.
But this year’s meet had a hint of both celebration and poignancy in its remembrance of Kelley, the former GHS coach who died in December at the age of 88. Kelley, one of South Valley’s most influential track and field figures ever, was a fixture at the event every year, even as he got up in age.
The latest Avis Kelley Invite was stopped mid-event for a moment of remembrance for Kelley, which included tribute speeches from Kelley’s oldest daughter, Namra Pourroy, and Christopher High track and field coach Jeff Myers.
“I owe my career to him,” Myers said. “I started out in junior high running for his wife Jan at South Valley. Then I went on to Gilroy, where he was my coach for four years. I started coaching in 1985 and have been doing it ever since. The opportunity he provided for me kept me going all these years. If it wasn’t for Avis, I would not be coaching all these years. His passion for the sport bled into me, and now I have my former runners coaching with me. Passing the baton on so to speak.”
Myers credited Gilroy High coach Matt Castillo for reviving the event last year, after a year’s absence due to Covid. Castillo, in turn, credited all of his assistants for helping him run an all day track and field event, which takes an army.
“It went great, it went awesome,” Castillo said. “Avis’ family came by and passed a couple of words. He was very inspirational to the community.”
Kelley’s importance to the local track and field community can’t be overstated. Many, like Myers, have credited Kelley for instilling in them a passion for the sport, honing their skills and giving them confidence to help launch their coaching careers.
“He inspired me and gave me a passion for the sport and the whole process: the kids, learning the events, the growing, the self-esteem, being a good teammate, all that came from Avis,” Myers said.
According to Myers, what made Kelley so special as a coach was his ability to teach the nuances of an event.
“From my time learning under Avis, I understood the jumps well,” Myers said. “I wasn’t the best jumper, but I learned the technique really well.”
Among the top-ranked local athletes, Christopher’s Kingsley Okoronkwo has the Central Coast Section’s second best mark in the triple jump, at 44 feet, 6 ½ inches, and the third best mark in the long jump, at 22-6. Among the top local girls, Melia Middleton, a Nevada-Reno signee, is No. 2 in the section in the 300 hurdles, at 46.58 seconds, and has the No. 6 time in the 400 in 58.48, which she ran at Avis Kelley.
Fellow CHS teammate Caitlynn Holt also has a top-10 listing, ranking ninth in the 300 hurdles at 48.89. Holt, Middleton, senior Kaiya Stewart and freshman Chioma Okeke are part of the 4×400 meter relay team that has posted the section’s second fastest time in 4:08.52.
“They’re running like they’re shot out of a cannon right now,” Myers said. “They’re going to drop some more time, too. They got accepted into Stanford [Invite], so they’ll be racing Saturday night with the big girls. They can hold their own and they’re the real deal.”
In the field events, Christopher’s Gabriela Baxter has the No. 5 mark in the high jump at 5-3, and Shiloh Vallejos has the No. 8 mark in the shot put, at 34-3, which she nailed at the Avis Kelley Invite.
Though gone, Kelley’s legacy endures.
“Avis was here for a short time last year,” Myers said. “He’ll always be remembered.”