TRACK AND FIELD/RUNNING: GET THE RUN-AROUND
(Active Alex 3/2012 - Full Article)
By Teri Boggess
When a child wants to try a new sport, a parent’s visions of a smiling young athlete with trophies and medals might also be mixed with visions of something else: the dollar signs that go with the equipment for that new activity.
But when the child wants to take up running, not that many dollars will be needed. The necessary shoes and clothes probably are already in the closet, and with a little planning and practicality, a Triangle family can enjoy a variety of low-cost competition options without having to commit time and money to being part of a club.
Among the choices for fleet feet are the annual Hershey’s Track and Field Games
local and regional meets, parks and recreation programs, charity road races, the annual State Games of North Carolina
, a variety of USA Track and Field-sanctioned meets, nonprofit clubs, nonsanctioned meets and school teams.
One Family’s Solution
The four children of Rick and Ruth Council of Durham got their start in track and field by participating in low-cost events open to anyone, including the State Games and Hershey’s meets. Eldest son Ricky Council II says he “started at the State Games to see where I’m at compared to everybody else.” He did well from the start, taking first in the high jump at age 5 or 6, he says, and progressing to a personal best of 6 feet even so far. A 6-foot-4 sophomore, he’s a standout multi-sport athlete at Durham’s Northern High School.
Now 16, he has aged out of Hershey’s competition, which is reserved for ages 9 to 14, but he’s still cheering on sister Rhianna, 14, and brothers Ricky III, 12, and Ricky IV, 10.
Ricky IV, whose events include the 400, the high jump and sometimes the long jump, says that if he were coaching others on how to get involved, “I would teach them how to do the event and then break it down simply to them so they could understand it easier.” For example, he says, something he learned about the high jump was the need to arch his back to get over the bar properly. Once he did that, his performances improved, and his high jump best of 4 feet, 2 inches is challenging Ricky III’s best of 4-3.
Families such as the Councils look forward to the annual Hershey’s meets offered locally through the Triangle’s parks and recreation departments. The meets are open to boys and girls ages 9 to 14 as of Dec. 31, 2012. Top finishers at local meets advance to district and state levels to compete for spots in the North American Games in August in Hershey, Pa., home of The Hershey Company.
A Hershey’s meet, Rick Council says, is “a good start for any child.” Ricky II and Ricky III even qualified for expenses-paid trips to nationals. The program began in 1975 as a local event on a West Virginia playground, reached national status in 1978 and now is recognized as one of the largest youth sports programs in North America, according to the organization website www.hersheystrackandfield.com.
“The Hershey’s Track and Field Games are an exciting and memorable track and field event to promote active lifestyles, sportsmanship and to provide an opportunity for kids to be the best that they can be,” Jane Bailey, athletic director for the Raleigh Parks and Recreation Department
, says. “Emphasis is on FUN! In addition, improvement in physical and emotional well-being. Research shows that without the development of physical activity, many youth turn to more inactive and/or unhealthy choices during their leisure time. Children are taught the value of respect, friendship and sportsmanship by examples set by meet administrators, coordinators and chaperones. Children make memories that will last a lifetime.”
To help area youths prepare, Raleigh will host a series of free clinics. “These clinics are geared for kids to get a taste of what track and field is all about and how fun it is,” she says. Kids can compete in three events – two running and one field, or two field and one running, Bailey says.
“The local meets are held in the spring and early summer,” Bailey says. “The district meets are held a few weeks after the local meets in late May or early June. This year, the state finals meet will be held on June 29 in Raleigh at Meredith College.”
This year’s Powerade NC State Games
, conducted by N.C. Amateur Sports, will be hosted by Winston-Salem venues June 9-24. Included in the Olympic-style sports festival for state residents is a youth track and field meet. This year’s schedule has not been revealed, but last June’s youth meet had an entry fee of $5 per event, with a four-event maximum.
Beyond Hershey’s meets and the State Games, Rick Council suggests, parents can check out USA Track and Field
. A large variety of sanctioned and nonsanctioned track and field events also can be found at Coach O
. “CoachO is the one that is used by most programs,” Council says.
There are even summer camps offered by various schools and clubs, including a summer cross country camp at WakeMed Soccer Park
through the Town of Cary.
For girls ages 8-12, there’s Girls on the Run of the Triangle
, a nonprofit program hosted by schools, YMCAs and other organizations. The character-development program uses running to help girls develop life skills and good decision-making skills. The twice-weekly program costs $200, but some scholarships are available. And an organization fundraiser, the 10th annual Quintiles Girls on the Run Spring 5K and Fun Run, is a good opportunity for girls – and boys – to get a race experience.
Road Races Everywhere
The Girls on the Run race is just one of many such events in the Triangle, where some sort of charity race, often a 5K, is run just about every weekend of the year.
Jim Young of sports event management firm Young and Associates
in Raleigh has seen the racing culture develop. “I’d say when I started this business back in the ’80s, there were a lot of races and the people were runners,” he says. But then came the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
, which changed the racing landscape everywhere. Now, we have races we call ‘running events,’ ” he says. “They’re really low-key.”
Young estimates that “well over half of the area 5Ks have events for kids.” Those kids dashes come with a lower fee than the regular race, and most are untimed, Young says. Kids can see their times on the big event clock, and their parents can run with them. Some events even include entertainment such as bounce houses to keep kids occupied between the race and the awards ceremony. And, as young runners develop, they may join the main race field in age-group competition.
To get the most out of such an event, Young recommends registering early – online for most events – so that a place is guaranteed and so that the child doesn’t miss the T-shirt order deadline. “I’d think it would be very important for kids to get T-shirts,” Young says. “… Also, if you enter a race early, you’ve made that commitment.”
The early start in running can enhance a child’s life for a long while. “Running is a lifetime sport,” Young says. “You can run long after you cease to be competitive.”
Young athletes can get a great big-meet experience at the annual Swift Feet Invitational
track and field meet, which is conducted by the Carolina Eagles Track and Field Club
for elementary and middle school athletes. This year, the meet will be held 8 a.m. April 28 at Southeast Raleigh High School. Athletes cannot turn 15 in 2012. The event kicks off the youth track and field season, and entry costs just $8 for unattached athletes or $150 per team.
With a field exceeding 500 athletes, the meet provides an exciting atmosphere but is a “nominal investment for a parent to really see what the sport of track and field looks like in that environment,” Kandra Gardner, one of the Eagles’ coaches, says. The open meet even includes an event for children who usually aren’t included in track and field. A 100-meter run will be “for children with autism and Down syndrome to give them an chance to compete, too,” says Gardner, who honors her uncle, a special needs athlete, with the event.
Another informal, fun and low-cost introduction to track meets can be experienced each summer courtesy of the Triangle’s Carolina Godiva Track Club
. The organization’s Godiva Summer Series track meets, which began in the 1975, are held on Wednesday nights beginning May 30th in Chapel Hill at the University of North Carolina’s Belt Track at Fetzer Field. Competition is open to all ages, and the optional entry fee has been just a $1 donation.
“I hope that our informal summer track series would be an ideal introduction to track for children,” says Charles Alden of Durham, the club’s summer track director. “Last year, the age of our competitors ranged from 2 to 80 years old, and we have many youth participants - from preschoolers through high school stars. There are a number of whole families who come out, and we’ve seen some rather exciting father-son and mother-daughter races.
Any parent who has had to corral a toddler on the go quickly learns kids love to run. Twelve-year-old Sam Grelck of Morrisville might just know why. “It’s really fun. You don’t have anything to lose. It’s what our bodies were made to do,” says Sam, 12-year-old seventh-grader who competes for the team at Cary’s St. Michael School
, which participates in the Catholic Schools Conference middle school program.
Like many young athletes, Sam was introduced to running through family activities and school teams, and in just a few years he has progressed to compete on a national level. But no matter whether a young runner aspires to high levels of competition or just needs to burn off energy, running and track and field are low-cost ways to help youths find their path.
“The key when you’re starting is to take it easy and don’t set too high of expectations. It really should be fun,” says Sam’s father, Ken Grelck, who coaches the St. Michael team and recommends a school cross country team as a convenient and “very social” introduction to running.
“Most teams don’t cut, so it’s kind of a nice experience,” he says, “… Just getting out and doing something is more important than how far or how fast.”
Sam says he ran his first trail race as a second-grader, participating in the annual Jolly Elf Trail Run
at Cary’s Bond Park with his family. “I knew my dad ran, and I kind of wanted to be like him, I guess,” Sam says.
Competing on his school team at events such as the Triangle Schools Jamboree at WakeMed Soccer Park and entering events as an unattached runner not affiliated with a club team, Sam fared well through the first half of the school year and, along with several boys from other schools, was invited to compete on the Triangle Champions Track Club
team. The talented group swept regional and state championships by taking the top five positions in each race.
“The great thing about cross country is it’s an individual sport but also a team sport,” Sam says.
In cross country, teams send out six runners, five of whom will earn points. The race winner gets one point, the runner-up earns two, the third-place finisher three points and so on, and the team with the fewest total points wins.
Sam’s team was extremely talented, winning Midget boys title at the USA Track and Field National Junior Olympics Cross Country Championships held Dec. 10 at Myrtle Beach, S.C. The experience produced lasting memories for Sam – “running with all those kids from all over the country,” and, naturally, “when we found out our team won, and that was really cool.”
Families who use fun meets to see if their children have interest and talent and then find their children finishing very well in competitions might consider committing to a track club, Ruth Council says. Joining a track club requires a different time and financial commitment, though. For the Councils, the free and low-cost youth meets are enough to keep them very busy. Says Rick Council, “I just like doing things with my family.”
If joining a club is the family option, numerous organizations such as the Carolina Eagles Track and Field Club of Raleigh, the Durham Striders or the Junior Striders of Raleigh, are available in the area. Find a club through the North Carolina Amateur Athletic Union Athletics
, or through USA Track & Field North Carolina
. Before committing to any sport, parents should look at costs such as event entry fees, travel expenses, team fees, sanctioning fees and equipment, plus the all-important commitment of time.
“Our club does invite kids to come out to see how it works,” says the Eagles’ Kandra Gardner. “It takes a lot of commitment, and again that season does last from April all the way into July. Events are typically on weekends. We have only two meets that are physically in the city of Raleigh. All of our other meets are outside the city of Raleigh. From a parental perspective, it takes a lot of commitment.”
Although some athletes travel with the Eagles’ staff – “You can feel really good about sending your kids off with the Carolina Eagles because we’re going to take care of them,” Garner says – some parents and athletes aren’t ready for that arrangement.
“We have a very frank conversation at our first interest meeting,” Gardner says, as parents explore whether competing as part of a team or as an unattached athlete is a better option.
Planning For An Event
The best way for parents with children new to running events to learn about preparing for events is asking other parents. Ruth Council takes on the role of nutritionist for her family to prepare them for meets and to maintain their energy throughout the day. That preparation, too, follows the meet theme of low cost. She recommends carbohydrates for energy, plus fresh fruit and “lots of water.”
“We tend to stay away from the G2 and those types of drinks, just plain water,” she says.
On the morning of an event, the kids have a good breakfast that probably will include oatmeal, eggs and fruit, and she packs protein bars for energy later.
Track meets have schedules to follow, and that allows families to plan when to eat and rest as the day progresses. Still, having several children competing in a meet requires lots of patience. “Be prepared,” Council advises.
“Pack as if you’re going for a picnic or an outing,” she says, including tent, umbrella, blanket, sunscreen and any other items to protect your family from a day in the hot sun.
One of the extra benefits of competing in meets is getting to know other families. “With any sport, it’s a culture,” Council says. “You go from one event to another.”
The Bottom Line
Regardless of the parent’s commitment to making sure a child practices and competes in running or track and field events, the most important part will be the child’s feelings about the chosen sport.
As a coach and as a parent with a competitive child, Ken Grelck sees a need to limit yet nurture son Sam. “He really drives himself. Parents need to foster that, not push it,” Ken Grelck says. “Give him experiences, and let it happen. It’s got to be enjoyable.”
And parents should be honest with the child about whether running is the right option. “One thing about track and field is it’s a hard sport,” Gardner says. “It’s one of those things if the child really enjoys the sport of running, I would look into it, but if the child doesn’t show a true affinity for it, it will probably wind up being a very short run, even if they make it through the first year.”
To find local running events, go to ActiveAlex.com under Upcoming Events & Deadlines.
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