Track and field club, High Performance Athletics is building champions through family environment

Craig Carson, youth director of High Performance Athletics, and his team are all about paying it forward and helping the next generation of athletes become champions.

  • Sports
  • Youth Sports
  • Share

The coaching seed was planted early in Craig Carson’s life. Growing up in a single-parent home, he can recall the impact his coaches had on his life — especially when he was just starting the sport. He went on to compete in track and field at the college level.

“One of the reasons I coach, my ‘why’ for getting involved with coaching, is because I grew up without a father in the home and there were volunteers and coaches that I leaned on in the community, other father figures my mother leaned on, to help mold me to be the man that I am today, and that was through sports,” Carson said. 

“One of those moments that still sticks with me is when I started running track at the age of 10,” he said. “One of my first coaches paid the registration fee for me because, otherwise, my mother would not have been able to afford it.”

The impact of that moment and the constant support from the coaches and community throughout his life pushed Carson to pay that same kind of support forward. 

“One of the things that coach told me is to always pay it forward,” Carson said. “If you’re ever in a position to change the lives of other individuals in the future, take advantage of that opportunity. Because you’re going to leave a legacy on this earth. What do you want your legacy to be? What story do you want to be told about you once you’re gone? … That’s why I envision this team as being first and foremost a family environment that helps change the lives of each child I come across, especially those who come from humble beginnings like myself, through sport.” 

As the youth director of High Performance Athletics, a track-and-field youth club team and training program founded by Windermere High track coach Jason Greer, Carson has been fulfilling his youth coach’s directive and paying it forward.

More from Orange Observer Sports


Coaches often preach their teams are like family, but Carson ensures HPA has a family environment by putting families at the team’s core. 

Part of that core is Carson’s daughter, Gabriella Carson, who not only contributes to the environment but also to the team’s success on track. 

“The one thing I did not want to do ever was to force my kids to do something, just because I did it,” Carson said. “I wanted it to be their idea, so when Gabriella came to me at 5 years old and said she wanted to run track, I started to bring her out little by little before diving in 110% with it. I wanted to make sure that it was something that she really wanted to do. Sure enough, she took to it really well, and, for me, it’s been a phenomenal journey to watch her as she grows through this sport.”

Carson’s not the only one who’s enjoyed the ability to share the track with their family. Gabriella loves that her dad is her coach too.

“My family is the most important thing to me, and with my dad and my whole family around, I’ve built up a lot of courage about track,” Gabriella said. “They always encourage me to do good, and they cheer me on.”

Beyond the Carsons, another HPA coach and his family have been adding to the family-first mentality of the club.

Roberto Morillo, a former Minor League Baseball player, is one of the coaches at HPA — and his two daughters, Mariana Morrillo, a senior track star at Horizon High, and Maria Morillo, 11, have helped establish this young track team as a force to be reckoned with. 

Like Carson, Morrillo loves the idea of being able to share the track with his two girls. 

“I feel like I’m the happiest man in the world,” he said. “When you’re able to coach your kids in sports, it’s a special thing. To know they’re doing good in school too, that makes me feel so happy.”

Although HPA’s family-first mentality is the driving force behind the entire organization, a side effect of that mindset has been a great deal of success for all three of the coaches’ daughters, especially for the oldest of the bunch.

At Horizon High, Mariana has been a star in various sprints, including the 200-meter dash, 400-meter dash, 4x100-meter relay and 100-meter hurdles.

Last season, she won gold nine times — including winning the 100 hurdles at regionals — and finished in the top three 13 times. Early this year, she has kept up the same level of success, winning five of the eight events she has run in and finishing outside of the top two just once. 

But for the elder Morillo daughter, she has her mind set on taking another step up in her final high school season. 

“Right now, I’m focusing on what’s in front of me, but the goal is to first make it states and hopefully win states this year; that would be amazing,” Mariana said. “But to do that I have to keep on working really hard. If I don’t run to my fullest at practice, I’m never going to run my best at the meets.”

The mindset Mariana shows is a critical to HPA because of the example she sets for the younger runners, including her younger sister, Maria. 

“I love having my parents and sister with me and supporting me with track,” Maria said. “Mariana is always saying that I’m going to do amazing and I’m going to get better.”

Beyond feeling supported and using her sister as an example, the impact of the family core of HPA is having on Maria could end up leading her to have even greater success than her big sister, their father said.

“I think Maria will end up being better than her sister,” Morillo said. “But a lot of that has to do with Maria starting earlier and having Mariana to learn from.”

Sam Albuquerque is the Sports Editor for the Orange Observer. Please contact him with story ideas, results and statistics.

 Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @SamBAlbuquerque

Instagram: @OrangeObserverSam



Sam Albuquerque

A native of João Pessoa, Brazil, Sam Albuquerque moved in 1997 to Central Florida as a kid. After earning a communications degree in 2016 from the University of Central Florida, he started his career covering sports as a producer for a local radio station, ESPN 580 Orlando. He went on to earn a master’s degree in editorial journalism from Northwestern University, before moving to South Carolina to cover local sports for the USA Today Network’s Spartanburg Herald-Journal. When he’s not working, you can find him spending time with his lovely wife, Sarah, newborn son, Noah, and dog named Skulí.

Latest News