By Davis Perez
Many kids start playing team sports with T-ball and AYSO soccer, but for quite a few, the first time they play for their school is in junior high track.
Holmes Junior High School’s track team is the biggest of all junior high teams in any sport, with 140-plus members. (Harper and Emerson/Da Vinci junior high schools each have about 75 participants.) You might be wondering: Why do all these kids want to do track?
Sam Amezcua, a seventh-grader at Holmes, hasn’t played on a team since fifth grade, but he joined the track and field program because his friends were doing it and track is open to anyone to participate. Explained Sam, “It’s more fun when you know the people.”
Collin Drown is a seventh-grader at Harper, and he joined for similar reasons. He plays soccer, which is in season at the same time as track. Yet even with the time commitment and physical requirements of those two sports, he always looks forward to going to track practice. For him, along with many other kids, track is a social as well as athletic event.
Math teacher Kris King — in his 29th year at Holmes — has been the head coach of the track team for nine years. Part of the popularity of track is that “we offer 12 different events at the junior high level, which require 12 different sets of skills. One does not need to be the fastest or jump the highest to succeed.”
Members of the teams start at very different skill levels, but everyone gets playing time in any event he or she chooses.
“That’s why I like it; it’s (good for) anybody,” Collin said. He also feels involved with his team even when he’s not actively participating.
When Holmes teacher and first-year track coach Jeff Bryant was asked why he thought so many kids liked track, he replied, “I honestly think it’s human nature. People enjoy expressing and celebrating themselves through struggle and competition. Track and field is the oldest vehicle for this expression in Western civilization.”
It’s not just junior high students who enjoy this competition. Many people continue track into high school. Adam Buderi is a sophomore on the Davis High School track team. He began track in seventh grade “because his brother did it and it looked like fun.” He says he continued because he liked the competition and the sense of community that comes from playing on a team for your school.
Buderi is still connected to junior high track, having helped out at last week’s meet between Harper, Holmes and Emerson junior high schools. Many high school track members continue to stay involved with the younger teams, organizing the athletes and helping the coaches as needed.
In attending a junior high meet, one will see typical track events: sprints, long jump, the mile run, high jump, shot put, etc. There will often be more than one event happening at a time, and those who aren’t participating will cheer on their teammates.
What is less typical is that at a junior high track meet, one sees surprisingly different levels of ability. There are participants who look like they might be headed for the Olympics, while others aren’t quite as competitive. And although a student might barely make it into the sandpit while executing the triple jump, he or she doesn’t seem discouraged.
“(An) important factor is the culture of the team, which is very inclusive, supportive and non-judgmental,” Bryant said. “Coach King invests an enormous amount of time and energy fostering this culture.”
Said King, “I have coached over 40 teams through the decades. This is year 11 or 12 of track (a couple at the high school level).” With all that coaching experience, it’s no wonder King creates the atmosphere he’s looking for.
So, coach, why do you think track is so popular for this age?
“I guess the simplest answer is we as coaches have fun and try to put that atmosphere over to the kids,” King said.