An end of an era for youth track and field

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Hannah Smart competes in the standing long jump during the local Hershey's Track and Field. Photo by Jim Davis/Murfreesboro Parks & Rec.
Damionte Shields competes in the softball throw during the local Hershey's Track and Field event. Photo by Jim Davis/Murfreesboro Parks & Rec.
Luke Watson competes in the standing broad jump during the local Hershey's Track and Field event. Photo by Jim Davis/Murfreesboro Parks & Rec.
Faith Anderson, who has competed on the national level in Hershey's Track and Field competition, shows form and determination during the local Hershey's event. Photo by Jim Davis/Murfreesboro Parks & Rec.

The best local youth track and field athletes gathered at Riverdale High recently for the 2014 Hershey’s Track and Field local youth meet.

Some of the athletes qualified for the state meet on June 21, also at Riverdale. However, this will be an end of an era with this being the final year of the North America Finals in Hershey, Pa.

The meet was held for boys and girls ranging in ages from 9 to 14 with several of the same events like in a normal track and field event. A couple of area stars stood out during the meet, especially in the 11- 12 year old division.

In the girls, Faith Anderson was looking to make a return trip to the North America Final in August. During the local meet, she finished in the top three in the standing long jump, 100 meter dash, 200 meter dash, and was a member of the winning 4x100 relay team.

While in the boys, Elijah Hairston won three events, including the standing long jump, 400 meter and 800 meter run. Both of them are favorites to compete well at the state meet and hope to advance to the last ever North America Final in a few months.

However, the meet included more than local 70 athletes, who all did their best and competed well. Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Athletic Superintendent and head of the Murfreesboro youth track and field program Thomas Laird was pleased with everyone’s performance during the event.

“Track and field is a unique sport in that it is not always about winning or losing,” he said. “Most athletes realize that they are competing against themselves. For some, simply finishing is the winning part. Our goal is always to help athletes do their best. We are pleased to see athletes win, but above all we like having kids active.”

The next meet for some of the stars is the state meet as each athlete tries to qualify for the North American Final in August. Each state will have at least five kids advance to the North American Final, but this will be the final year of the competition in its current format.

“In February, the Hershey Company announced that it would no longer host the North American Finals after 2014,” Laird said. “While I understand their need to impact more kids, it is certainly disappointing. This program has changed kids’ lives over the years and we hate to see it go. Hershey’s has partnered with American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD). Their goals is to develop a curriculum type program called Run, Jump and Throw which can be offered in schools. While this will certainly help increase participation, it does not offer a competitive component.”

To counter the ending of the current Hershey’s program in 2015, Laird added the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association is working toward offering Tennessee Track and Field to give athletes the chance to compete at local and state meets in the current format.

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field, hershey, track, youth
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