Saturday, May 3, 2014

Track and Field: Something for Everyone

Today I was able to attend a grade school track meet, featuring my school and several other schools in the area. The meet was for kids in grades K-8, and there were lots of families there.

My school was in charge of the softball throw, and that's an easier job than you think. There were anywhere from three to twelve children participating at a time (we split into age groups), and they each got two throws. We've done it so long that we have a system that is very efficient, and even the largest groups get done in 20 minutes or so.

When I wasn't helping out with the softball event, I was busy perusing the other events taking place, and it made me realize how fun Track and Field days are. No matter where you are or what abilities you may have in sports, there is something for you.

In high school I tried playing softball in the springtime my first two years. I made the team my freshman year but got cut my sophomore year. They promoted me to "student coach" and offered me the same position my junior year, but I decided to give Track a try. Our girls' team had excelled in previous years - even winning the state championship my freshman year. We had great coaches, and there were several girls in my class who were very important to that state championship, even though they had been freshmen.

When anyone joins a Track team, the first thing the coach will ask is, "What events will you be participating in?" And that's a great question. No person could excel at every single event, so they pick their specialties - events that they feel will give the team - and themselves - the best chance at winning. For me, that was the "weight" events: shot put and discus.

Back in grade school, shot put had been introduced in the upper grades, and when I first picked up that shot and began "putting" in the back parking lot of our school, I knew I'd fallen in love. The way the shot leaves a person's hand is far different from a little old softball. It requires legs, arms, and a good, solid grunt. When I actually placed in the shot put events from that point forward, I knew I was good at this. It felt natural to pick it back up again in high school.

My first year was pretty good. Our team was so big that not every girl made it to the weekend "invitationals," and we had to prove ourselves in practices and team meets on the weekdays in order to qualify. When I made my first invitational in the first weekend, I was thrilled to bits! We took first, and even though I didn't place, I got a shiny medal for my letter jacket and a new label at school. I was known as the "basketball manager" and "football statistician" and "organist" and "choir member," but now I was "track athlete." I was an athlete - something I always wanted to be, but never seemed to be good enough to make the team. Finally, in Track and Field, I found something at which I was good!

That's the beauty of Track and Field. Even if someone is a little larger and runs ten yards behind the others in the 100m dash, they can use that brute strength and channel it into a large round metal ball. If sprinting isn't someone's thing, they can be a slow-and-steady distance runner. If day 10 is someone's favorite day in "The 12 Days of Christmas," you can leap your heart out in long jump and high jump.

I got even better my senior year - even winning the "most improved senior" award (which I still cherish to this day) and participating in the big county meet at the end of the track season.

Nowadays, I am content coaching kids when it comes to track - especially shot put. Back at my first school, I helped an eighth grade girl discover the amazing world of shot put, and the next year she joined the track team at her high school. I'm busy encouraging the 6th-8th grade boys and girls at my school now to actually grunt when they put, to energize their throws and get greater distance. The girls seem more enthused to do that than the boys, actually. The girls giggle but give it a try, while the boys just say they're shy and they don't want to give it a try because they'll look stupid. Oh, grade schoolers. Wait till they get to high school and discover I was right!

I also enjoy Track and Field day's participation. Because there are always several schools participating, many children who might see each other at different times of the year (soccer, volleyball, basketball, fine arts, etc.) finally get an extended period of time with which to talk to their competitors. I got to know several of my best high school friends back in grade school, when we competed against each other. I saw it today when I observed some great camaraderie between students at different schools. These fun encounters sometimes don't amount to anything, but sometimes they develop into lasting friendships. And even if they don't, usually the kids are very friendly to each other, and cheer each other on.

I always enjoy Track and Field day. Always fun, always encouraging, and something for everyone.

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