December 5, 2013

Fast, thinking

Champions of Dalton combines athletic and academic training

By Devin Golden

— Champions of Dalton will offer more than speed training.

In fact, even characterizing the new facility as simply an athletic center is selling it short.

When the 30,000-square-foot building that houses Champions of Dalton, an affiliate of the Parisi Speed School, officially opens its doors at 8 a.m. Saturday at 419 S. Glenwood Ave., there will be a multitude of training options for potential clients.

Strength training. Basketball. Baseball. Volleyball. Soccer. Football. Cheerleading. Team workouts. Individual sessions.

Those are just some of the opportunities the facility intends to offer adults and children, and the training center is also designed to make sure academics aren’t lost in the rigors of increased muscle tone and lower 40-yard dash times.

Champions of Dalton is a new business venture of Jay Poag, a 1982 Dalton High School graduate and the brother of Christian Heritage School athletic director and football coach Preston Poag. Jay Poag said he bought into the Parisi Speed School franchise and opened Champions of Dalton under the umbrella.

“When we came back here to do this venture, I knew we wanted to do it with Parisi,” said Jay Poag, who played quarterback for the Catamounts and later played quarterback, running back and wide receiver for Davidson College.

The Parisi Speed School includes classes in linear speed — with a focus on acceleration, top speed and deceleration — change of direction and strength training. The youngest class, “Jumpstart,” is for 7-12 years old. Ages 12-18 will be in “Total Performance,” and the “Peak” group is for high school seniors and college athletes.

The speed school, started 21 years ago by Bill Parisi, is intended to enhance a runner’s performance and has more than 75 locations in around half of the states in the United States. Parisi was a two-time NCAA Division I All-American in the javelin throw and qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1988.

Participants in the speed school have the option of monthly memberships ranging from three months to nine months. There’s also a 10-session membership option.

“We’re not creating better football players or better baseball players,” Poag said. “We’re creating better self-confidence and better self-esteem. Whatever he or she ends up becoming, he or she feels better about himself or herself.”

Aside from the speed school, Champions of Dalton includes additional programs. The “Training for Warriors” classes stemmed from mixed martial arts training and involve intense cardiovascular workouts. There also is a program for pilates, a conditioning routine focused around spinal and pelvic alignment, breathing exercises and strengthening one’s core.

As for other sports, the center offers two soft-toss tee stations, three turf batting cages, three turf pitching mound tunnels (with one specialized for fast-pitch softball) and a sports court with two basketball goals that can be converted to a volleyball court or cheerleading area. Additionally, there is a strength training area and two separate rooms filled with free weights and machine weights.

Then there is the indoor 45-yard artificial turf field, which is lined for football but can also be used for youth soccer or lacrosse. There also is a 50-yard, two-lane turf track where the Parisi Speed School training takes place.

Robert Hardaway, a 2013 Dalton High School graduate who played football for the Catamounts, has gone on to play at Georgetown University. Visiting home during the Thanksgiving break, he was among area athletes who received a tour of the facility last week.

“I think it’s awesome you can walk from one room where you were shooting basketball or throwing a baseball and take two steps to another room to go run,” Hardaway said. “It’s unbelievable. Everything you need to do is here.”

Poag said he spent much of November getting the word out about the facility. He visited with coaches at local schools and will offer a free Parisi Speed School evaluation to anyone who comes to the center during Saturday’s grand opening. The evaluation includes tests of speed, agility, quickness and vertical jumping ability.

“There will be a lot of team training up here,” Poag said. “Not just for football, either. We also could pick up and go to the schools. We’re talking to two schools (Northwest Whitfield and Southeast Whitfield) right now about coming to them in the morning and holding a football workout.”

Poag considers the Parisi Speed School a major selling point to potential athletes. He believes the academic side will “drive the moms and dads” to Champions of Dalton.

Poag’s wife, Amy, will be a consultant for Champions of Dalton’s academic side, which won’t begin operation until the spring. She is a college counselor at Christian Heritage and has experience as an independent college consultant at Davidson Center in Davidson, N.C. (The Poags moved to Dalton this summer.) Jay Poag worked at a Champions athletic center in Cornelius, N.C., near Davidson, and also coached football from 2003-2009 at Davidson College, where he graduated in 1987.

“The goal is early intervention,” Amy Poag said. “The earlier the better. You can’t get an athlete who is a junior or senior with bad grades (and hope to change their situation). The hope is to get them to post-secondary education.”

The athletic areas of the facility are in the rear of the complex. In front are numerous rooms soon to be designated for study groups, tutoring and standardized testing preparation classes. There will also be computer rooms for athletes to complete their homework. There also is a multi-purpose room closer to the athletic section that could host meetings for groups such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, guest speakers or movie nights. There also is a room with a smoothie and nutrition bar.

The academic program stresses pushing students toward college — and providing the necessary skills to get there.

“Our vision is to have a test prep (focus) where we have intensive ACT and SAT test prep classes, both for individuals or groups,” Amy Poag said, noting there will be courses for parents on applying for financial aid. “There will be college planning and essay workshops.”

Aside from helping student-athletes make it to college classrooms, Hardaway believes academics and athletics are tied together. Because of that, he sees Champions of Dalton as a rewarding enterprise.

“So much of sports is mental,” he said. “A lot of people forget that. Ninety percent of a game is mental and the other 10 percent is training your body so reacting becomes second nature.”

To learn more about Champions of Dalton, call (706) 529-7528 go online to