By EVA DUNN-FROEBIG
When my six-year-old son participated in his first track meet last week, I must have cried a dozen times.
The first time was when the last 1500 meter runner—at least 200 yards behind everyone else—ran to the finish line as fast as she could as a full house of parents stood up in the bleachers and cheered.
You get the picture: Missoula Youth Track is not about winning or losing; it’s about accepting athletes of all levels and abilities and making the sport fun and affordable.
Missoula Youth Track is a four-week program in May. Kids in kindergarten through middle school get eight practices and two track meets. They also get a T-shirt and awards at the track meets. All this for $30 and scholarships are available. This year over 400 kids are participating in Missoula Youth Track.
“The little kids get an introduction to the various events of track and field, they get an hour of exercise and get to meet new friends,” says founder Mary Thane. “They also learn about competition and that you are still loved and can have fun no matter if your ribbon is blue, green or yellow. They also have a positive teen as a role model so later they may consider coaching and develop leadership skills.”
I volunteered at the practices to lead a plyometrics station, but the kids don’t care about the adults leading the stations. They look up to the high school kids who coach them and make practices and meets fun.
I think my son had as much fun bonding with the boys in his group and playing tag with his coaches in between events at the track meet than he did running the 100 meters and doing the long jump.
And the best part is the over 75 high school student coaches get as much out of it as the kids they mentor.
“I have kept the scholarship applications from several years back,” Thane says. “These are from the high school students that apply for a small scholarship to use towards college and that may answer what they get out of it. After reading these you will think that we do this for them versus the little kids!”
Thane, an accomplished runner and parent, started Missoula Youth Track with a handful of other parents in 2000. She had been involved in a similar program for girls when she was in high school and talked about starting her own program with other interested parents.
In 2000, the wrote an article in the Missoula Road and Track Club (now Run Wild Missoula) newsletter and someone from Spokane read it and donated the T-shirts for the kids. “We thought we would have 50 kids [that first year],” Thane says. “We had 150!”
“Missoula Youth Track is truly community involvement,” Thane continues. “The UM Track and Field Team educate the high school kids and then the high school kids coach the little kids. Local businesses fund the program.”
Planning to run the 2012 Missoula Marathon? Check out Eva’s post about the marathon training program.
Stay in the loop with Missoula’s running community! Check out the Run/Walk It archives for more posts from Eva and other Missoula runners and walkers.
Eva Dunn-Froebig is the executive director of Run Wild Missoula and has been running since the seventh grade. She moved to Missoula 12 years ago from upstate New York to attend the University of Montana’s Journalism School graduate program. Eva never dreamed that she would have a running-related job and feels lucky to be a participant in Missoula’s vibrant running community.