Former Lord Botetourt assistant football coach Mark Harrison, who is now the head coach at Craig County High School, is all about getting kids stronger and faster. His Roanoke Area Strong Youth clinics are designed to do just that.
The non-profit clinics are held at the Extreme Cheer and Dance building at 7703 Enon Drive in the Hollins area, just across from Walrond Park. On a given day he’ll share the building with girls doing flips and spins as his athletes go about their business of weight lifting and strength and fitness exercises.
“We really need more space,” said Harrison, who has weight lifting equipment lining the wall around a large area of mats for cheer and gymnastics work. “When the COVID hit we started having more kids come full time and it gets a little tight sometimes.”
Harrison runs his “Fastest Forty” operation for profit, but realized that not every kid can afford that so he started this non-profit program.
“I got in this to make money but I soon realized I wasn’t going to make a lot of money,” he said. “I saw a need for kids and started the non-profit about two years ago. We don’t charge a lot but we’re surviving off sponsorships. It’s enough to keep it going.”
Mark provides the weights himself and offers group and individual instruction.
“The smaller groups are better,” he said. “We were getting about 20 at a time, and that’s too many. One or two at a time is best, so I can watch every rep. That’s how kids get good.”
Kids come from all over to participate in the program. He’ll work with anyone from elementary school to high school. Several kids from Craig County make the trip to Hollins to work out.
“It’s improved my muscular strength and endurance,” said Craig’s Brad Arthurs, who attends four days a week for about an hour a day. Wyatt Huffman also is a regular at the clinic and Craig’s Zoie VanDyke and Carter Price also have participated.
Harrison, in his fourth year as Craig County football coach, is a former Ferrum College football player who served as strength coach at Lord Botetourt High School. When he left LB he wanted to stay involved in that field and met Bill Gillespie after hearing about him at a strength and conditioning clinic at Florida State.
Gillespie is a world champion weight lifter. He’s been a strength coach for the NFL and for college football programs and this year he bench pressed 1,015 pounds at 60 years of age.
“He’s one of the strongest men in the world,” said Harrison. “I was at a clinic in Florida in Bobby Bowden’s last year and they were telling me about this machine you hit and it tallies your score. The guy there said I had to see it, and he hooked me up with Bill. He has a machine at Liberty University.”
Gillespie spent three years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach at Liberty U. from 1987-90. Bill is certified by both SCCC (Strength and Conditioning Coach Certified) and CSCS (Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist). He has won world championships in the bench press and set world records.
“He’s the one that got me started,” said Harrison. “When I left LB I knew I wanted to stay involved in this and he’s been my mentor.”
Mark currently has a son, Bryce, who is a junior on the Lord Botetourt football team. His oldest son, Logan, is 22 and has won state and national honors in Olympic Lifting.
Anyone interested in attending Harrison’s Roanoke Area Strong Youth clinics can sign up or get more information by calling 530-309-3934. Kids from all areas are welcome.
“They can come part time or full time,” said Harrison. “These kids are seeing a difference. They’re getting faster and stronger and it’s also a good program for injury prevention.”