Thursday, April 29, 2010

Silent Spring for Middle School Track

Fairbanks Brick Wall: Take 1

Okay, I'm fed up with some aspects of the local scene in Fairbanks. Starting with arrogant and turfy. I submitted this editorial to the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer the other week and they didn't even respond. It's not what you know here, it's who.

There's more too. Next up high school JV track.

Silent Spring for Middle School Track
As winter fades into memory with the promise of warm weather and endless days ahead, one sound of spring that won’t be heard in the Fairbanks area this year is the patter, leaps, and throws of middle school track and field athletes. Despite incredible enthusiasm from athletes, parents, and coaches last year, an administrative decision moved a promising spring track program to fall, thus silencing spring track.

For years Fairbanks had gone without a track program for middle schools, so when our son entered Randy Smith Middle School in 2007 we asked around, and found that there was some interest at the FNSB School District. I coached in 2008 and 2009. In 2008 we had about 30 on the team and more than 100 from all schools combined. Participation doubled in 2009.

Most would call this a resounding success. However, the support from the school administrators waned. The primary issues were weather and bus schedules. Spring 2009 was slow to arrive and snow persisted through April. We were forced to train in the parking lot at Randy Smith, rather than on the dirt track. The first meet was cold and blustery, but the season ended on a warm, sunny day at the North Pole High School track.

Within a week after the season—without any input from coaches or parents—the middle school administrators decided to scrap spring track and make it a fall sport. However, there are many more sports conflicts. The Fairbanks middle schools have tremendous participation in cross country, basketball, and soccer. Only volleyball conflicts with spring track.

Many parents and coaches objected to fall track because it was obvious participation would drop. We were advised to let kids compete in both cross country and track at the same time. As a running coach with more than 20 years of experience I do not recommend that kids run track races and a 3 kilometer cross country race during the same week. This approach sets up a greater risk of injury as well as asking for less than full performance level at both sports.

Although the weather was better, the fall track experiment did not work. Participation dropped, and few Randy Smith athletes trained and competed. Overall numbers at the meets were low. The cross country program was also adversely affected because some athletes chose to join track, and those that did both did not run up to their potential.

Track is a great sport. In an era with issues like childhood obesity, high drop out rates, and substance abuse, the community should fully support a wholesome after school activity—even if it’s snowy and muddy and not always convenient. One of the best things about track and field is that youngsters can find their own athletic niche and everyone gets to be a “starter.” Track and field also gives prospective varsity athletes from “major sports” an opportunity to keep in shape during the off season of their main sport, while expanding their skill base.

The Fairbanks community is very supportive of its high school athletes. A strong middle school track program would serve as a feeder program for the high schools.

Then there is Anchorage. Not only does Anchorage have warmer spring weather, it now boasts a fancy indoor track facility, and outdoor spring track for middle school. How can Fairbanks compete at the high school level with Anchorage when we lack facilities, have worse spring weather, AND no decent middle school track program to generate interest and initiate skill development?

Students, parents, and coaches are willing to participate. Track and field is an inexpensive sport, with minimal investment from the FNSB School District. We can work around the weather and bus schedules. There are options. We need to convince school administrators and the FNSB School District that spring track and field for middle school is good for the students and the community. Speak up. Make sure that administrators and the school district hear from you!


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