Elementary track program inspires Federal Way school district’s youngest athletes

The Sherwood Forest Elementary track team won first place at the May 31 district track championship. - Photo courtesy of the Federal Way Public School district
The Sherwood Forest Elementary track team won first place at the May 31 district track championship.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of the Federal Way Public School district

Paradise Dorrough, a fifth-grader at Valhalla Elementary, never considered that her talent for recess games of tag could lead to a college scholarship one day. But now, thanks to the encouragement of her teacher Heather Anderson, she thinks it might.

Paradise is one of more than 2,000 elementary students who participate in the district elementary track program in Federal Way each year. This year’s season culminated with the district-wide track meet on May 31. Top finishers from that event will move on to the Hershey state meet on June 28. Most years, the district is also represented at the Hershey national track meet in Pennsylvania.

Ron Matilda, a retired FWPS teacher who began the district’s track program 43 years ago, said it’s about more than just running. Students are building confidence and learning life skills like goal setting and teamwork – and developing lifelong healthy habits that include exercise.

This is Paradise’s second year competing in the 200 meter, 100 meter and relay events.

“It’s really fun,” she said. “I’m really fast and I want to get a scholarship to college and I want to do track for the rest of my life.”

In addition to team practices after school, Paradise stretches at home and runs around her neighborhood.

“When I run, it makes me feel excited, happy. It’s good for your body. You can express yourself. If you’re mad or sad, you can just go running. It will help you.”

Laila Collins, a fifth-grader at Wildwood Elementary, also hopes to get a college scholarship one day for track. Maybe she’ll even compete in the Olympics, she said.

“I do it because I love to run. It makes me feel so good,” Collins said.

In addition to practicing with her school team, Collins participates in a Parks and Recreation track program and practices at home. She said she’s more excited about school because of track, and she likes making new friends.

“I’ve been more active and healthier,” she said.

Federal Way’s elementary track program is one of the largest in the region, and the largest athletic program in the district. It is free for students in Kindergarten through fifth grade who reside within the district.

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