Final Hershey’s track, field meet today at McKenzie Stadium

Long-running program ends after today's competition

By Paul Danzer, Columbian Soccer, hockey and Community Sports Reporter

Published:

 

• What: Hershey's Track and Field Washington State Meet

• Who: Boys and girls ages 9-14 who qualified at local meets.

? When: Opening ceremonies, 9:30 a.m. Competition starts at 10:30 a.m.

? Where: McKenzie Stadium.

? Cost: $5, Free for ages 17 and younger.

• What: Hershey’s Track and Field Washington State Meet

• Who: Boys and girls ages 9-14 who qualified at local meets.

■ When: Opening ceremonies, 9:30 a.m. Competition starts at 10:30 a.m.

■ Where: McKenzie Stadium.

■ Cost: $5, Free for ages 17 and younger.

It will be the end of an era Saturday when hundreds of young athletes from around the state gather at McKenzie Stadium in Vancouver for the Hershey’s Track and Field Program Washington State Meet.

After 37 years, the chocolate company is discontinuing its track and field program, which culminates each summer with the Hershey North American Track and Field Championships in Hershey, Pa. At least five of the champions from Saturday’s meet in Vancouver will advance to the 2014 North American Championships.

But James Welch, meet director for the state meet, said plans are afoot to keep running track meets in Washington similar to the program Hershey has sponsored.

“We’re going to continue the track program,” Welch said. “Not just in Clark County, but around the state, there is a lot of interest in continuing a program like this for kids.”

The competition today involves boys and girls ages 9-14 who qualified for the state meet during one of 21 local Hershey’s meets around Washington. The event begins with a parade of athletes at 9:30 a.m. The first races are at 10:30 a.m. and the meet is scheduled to continue through approximately 4:30 p.m.

There is competition for boys and girls in the age groups 9-10, 11-12 and 13-14. Field events are the standing long jump and the softball throw. Running events vary by age group but include sprints up to 1,600 meters, plus a 400-meter relay race.

Those who place first at the state meet and have the best mark in the region will be invited to the North American championships.

For the Hershey program, Washington is in a region with Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Alaska, plus four Canadian provinces.

Welch is an owner of One Team Kids, a Vancouver-based organization that offers after-school enrichment programs for children which is responsible for bringing the state meet to McKenzie Stadium.

Welch said hosting this state meet fits well with the organization’s mission.

Shyan Selah appreciates how the Hershey Track and Field Program can affect lives. The Seattle-based rock musician said that if not for his Federal Way elementary school track coach Barb Tight steering him into the program, he might never have played college football at Central Washington or gone on to pursue a career in music.

Selah will be on hand to sing the national anthem and work as a volunteer meet official. A multiple Hershey’s state champion in the late 1980s, Selah said this program helped teach him the value of focus in achieving goals — both in the moment and long term.

“Track and field could possibly be the most self-empowering sport there is,” Selah said, noting that athletes are competing against themselves as much or more as they are competing against others.

Selah said the most potent lesson he learned on the track was how to focus in the moment.

“I think life is a lot about focus and discipline,” Selah said. “It’s about staying in your lane. It’s about being fast and powerful, but controlled, too.”

Hershey’s is ending its program and partnering with USA Track and Field for a new program for ages 7-12. The new Run, Jump, Throw initiative will focus on basic skills as an introduction to track and field.

Welch, the meet director, said that his goal is to make this more than a track meet for the participants. For example, state meet participants were treated to a Friday spaghetti dinner at Big Al’s along with the chance to bowl.

“The idea is to give the kids an experience that goes beyond just running in a race,” Welch said.

What replaces the Hershey program in the state of Washington? Welch said that is to be determined. He said that planning will start sometime after this meet ends.

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