East Down Athletic Club was founded in 1987, following the winding up of the Leisureside AC which was operated out of Down Leisure Centre, and included many of its members in the first few years of its existence. The old club had a strong senior membership at that time which had competed with distinction in road and cross country races and continued to do so under its new title. The simple and stated objective of the new club was to promote the sport of athletics, including Track and Field, Road and Cross Country running. The club affiliated to the Northern Ireland Athletics Federation.
The driving force behind the new Club was Jimmy Murray who became its first Secretary and he set about establishing the Club as a major force in N I athletics by developing the youth of the area, but with the emphasis now much more on the Track and field elements of the sport Through his position as a teacher in St Columba’s College in Portaferry he had access to a huge pool of talent in the Ards Peninsula and many of his early training successes came from that area.
He also drew heavily on the East Down area as a whole and unearthed great talent in the Castlewellan and Newcastle areas as well in Ardglass, his home town, and Downpatrick, with other notable additions from Newry and the South Down area.
He was also a founder member of the Northern Ireland Young Athletes League which sought to provide children aged from 11 to 17 years with competitive opportunities in all track and field athletic disciplines. This in spite of the absence of any dedicated athletic facilities in the district, the nearest proper track being the Mary Peters Track in Belfast. Training took place in local schools or their playing fields, by permission of sympathetic principals, or at the all weather pitch at Down Leisure Centre or on the roads around Downpatrick, Summer and Winter. Yet several of those early members went on to achieve international recognition and the Boys Under 15 record in the 1500 metres, set in 1995 and the Girls Under 13 records at both 100 and 200 metres, set in 1996, are held by East Down athletes.
By 1997 senior membership had all but disappeared, due to the retirement through age or injury of most of the founder members, apart from one or two diehards who persisted with active participation after attaining veteran status.
After Jimmy’s untimely demise in 1998 junior membership dropped also dramatically as his pivotal influence through the schools disappeared.
WHERE ARE WE NOW?
But by publicising its existence through the NI Schools competitions and the Golden Cow Youth Games membership of the club slowly picked up as talented and interested youngsters sought to further their athletic ambitions.
Membership, which is drawn from every area and background has steadily increased over the years and training nights regularly sees 40/50 youngsters (aged 9 to 18 though most in the 11 to 16 category and of both sexes) in attendance, thus enabling the Club to once again participate with distinction in Cross Country races and Track and Field events in the Young Athletes League. Training continued at DLC during the Winter and at Down High School during the Summer months but the Club has never had a base it could call home.
In 2003 the Club became the first athletic club in NI to be awarded Goldclub status in the Junior Club Quality Accreditation Scheme administered by the NI Sports Council and as such is now the athletic representative on the Down Clubmark Sports Association.
All the management and running of the Club is voluntary. Over the years fundraising has not been a major concern, as overheads were generally low, the most significant costs being for the hire of premises for training and to provide transport to and from venues throughout Ireland. The main source of income was through membership fees and the nightly charge of £1 for attendance. A “cash reserve” was raised through annual e