Sports

Getting on the right track

By CASEY OLSON

Sports editor

Organized chaos is the polite way to describe it.

It being the Federal Way School District’s Elementary Track and Field Program.

With nearly 2,000 kindergarten through fifth-graders running around Federal Way Memorial Stadium, things can get a little hairy.

“It’s a little like herding cats,” said Ken Blucher, one of the program’s meet directors and a machinist at Boeing. “It looks confusing, but it actually runs pretty smoothly. There are a lot of parent volunteers, teachers and others who keep track of the kids.”

The Elementary Track and Field Program currently includes over 2,000 kindergarten through fifth graders from all 23 schools in Federal Way. The program is also open to home schoolers and children who attend private schools outside of the Federal Way district. In short, any elementary school-age kid, no matter the income level of their family, can participate in the track and field program.

“It is just very rewarding to watch these kids,” said Barb Tight, who has been a volunteer with the Elementary Track Program for 26 years. “It makes them feel good.”

The vision of the track and field program is to provide a healthy outlet for students to participate in outdoor physical activity. According to the program’s mission statement, it creates opportunities to develop physical fitness, experience the joy of accomplishment, realize and appreciate diversity among individuals, inclusion in community and school-related activities and to build skills and friendships.

“This is a very unique thing,” Blucher said, who participated in the program during his days at Brigadoon Elementary in the late 1970s. “It’s a fun program. There is nothing else like it out there.”

The 2004 season marks the 34th year Federal Way has been involved with the Elementary School Track and Field Program. The program was developed back in 1972 as a Federal Way Recreation sponsored event and has been responsible for several state champion track and field athletes.

During the first season, the inaugural elementary track meet was held at Lakota Junior High School with three schools participating — Nautilus, Lake Dolloff and Star Lake.

The program’s momentum built slowly following the first year. In 1973, four schools participated, followed by five in 1974, seven in 1975 and nine schools during the program’s fifth season in 1976.

The Federal Way school district started its involvement in 1984 as a co-sponsor with the parks department and took over full funding a year later. Currently, 22 of the 23 schools in the Federal Way district has a paid coach, who conduct practices throughout April and May. Most schools’ track teams practice one time a week, but some of the larger teams conduct multiple practices during the week.

“Some of them take it a little more seriously than others,” Blucher said. “It kind of varies from school to school.”

Woodmont Elementary has the highest participation rate in the district with about 150 kids competing. Camelot and Mark Twain elementaries both have about 120 kids turning out, Blucher said.

The meets throughout the season are quite the undertaking, requiring plenty of volunteer help. For example, at a meet last month organizers had to deal with 50 straight heats of the 50-meter dash. Meaning 400 separate individual times, not to mention the unexpected problems grade-schoolers can invent.

“One of our biggest problems is kids starting out running in lane one and when the race ends they are in lane seven,” said Everett Hill, a music director and longtime volunteer.

“What makes this program so great is the volunteers,” Tight said.

Besides the coaches at each school, everyone else involved in the Elementary Track and Field Program donates their time.

“We have a lot of teachers involved,” Hill said. “We have parent volunteers to keep track of the kids and plenty of other help.”

The Decatur High School cheerleading team and coach Laurie Beaver have volunteered at the meets for several years, as have students at Federal Way High.

“A lot of those high school kids have come up through this program,” Tight said. “And they know what it has meant. The young kids just love the high schoolers.”

The Elementary Track and Field Program’s season consists of five meets at Federal Way Memorial Stadium, culminating with the Federal Way Championship Meet, which includes the top-eight qualifiers in each event from throughout the district. Events include track races from 50 to 1600 meters and a 4x100 relay and field events like the softball throw and long jump.

“They learn that when you compete, sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t,” said Tight, who works in an orthodontist office. “But the top kids are recognized.”

The championship meet includes only third- through fifth-graders. The smaller children are told their times throughout the season, but don’t have a final qualifying meet.

“The emphasis for them is everybody getting a ribbon,” Tight said.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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