Longtime track coach honored

When Ron Mattila started the elementary school track program in 1971, he never thought the all-city meet would be named for him.

But that’s exactly what happened for Mattila at last Wednesday’s Elementary Track Classic — now called the Ron Mattila Elementary Track Classic.

The athletes took a break in the action as Mattila was honored with a plaque for his 31 years of service to youth track programs in Federal Way.

“It feels pretty good. It’s pretty neat,” Mattila said. “The main thing is the kids get to participate. It develops their self-image and character. I feel a lot of change in the kids. There’s a lot of successes. They’re so happy when they improve on their times or distances or throws. They set goals — that’s the key to it. They learn to set goals at a younger age, and they continue to do it.”

Mattila, 59, is the P.E. specialist at Panther Lake Elementary. He has dedicated the better part of 31 years to youth track programs — and said he plans to continue his participation forever.

“I’m a track nut, a track junkie,” Mattila said. “It’s just a fun thing to do.”

During the first year of the Elementary Track Classic in 1971, three schools participated. Through the years, more schools became involved. This year, 28 schools entered. About 2,000 students participate in the elementary track program each year — the most participants of any athletic event for Federal Way Public Schools.

Mattila is the meet director and assistant chairman of the Hershey’s track program in Washington. This year’s Hershey’s state meet on June 29 at Federal Way Memorial Field will be Mattila’s 25th year with the Hershey’s program. He also is the course clerk at the high school state finals, Star Track, in Tacoma. And he still runs the 100 and 200-meter dashes in the Masters track program, finishing the 100 in 12 seconds.

But it’s the elementary track program in Federal Way that is closest to Mattila’s heart.

“I really like elementary track because that’s where we start them,” he said. “It’s a grass roots program. We give the kids a feel for it.”

Many of Mattila’s former runners have grown up and are now coaches in the elementary schools, giving back to the program they participated in as youths.

“A lot of thanks goes to all our coaches and parents from the elementary schools,” Mattila said. “They support the program. That’s the key right there.”

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