Faith Anderson (second from right) accepts the fifth place award in the 50 meter dash on Aug. 4, 2013, at the Hershey's Track and Field Games North American Final in Hershey, Penn. (Photo submitted)
The best youth track and field athletes ages 9-14 gathered last weekend in Hershey, Penn., for the 36th annual Hershey’s Track and Field Games North American Final.
Several runners from the Volunteer State took part in the meet, including two from Rutherford County. Faith Anderson finished fifth, while Marcus Washington qualified but was unable to compete in the final event.
Anderson tried her best in trying to be the fastest sprinter in the 9- to 10-year-old girls 50-meter dash. In her first appearance at the North American Final, she finished in fifth place with a time of 8.20 seconds, only 55 seconds slower than first-place winner, Beyona Monroe.
Her father, Eric Anderson, said he was pleased with her performance at the meet.
“We were hoping for a better finish, but we are happy with what we got,” Eric Anderson said. “It was a really big stage and a really big crowd.”
He added he watched Faith take part in opening ceremonies, which included getting a high-five from U.S. Olympic legend Carl Lewis before the event. Before the race, Eric Anderson gave his 10-year-old daughter some advice.
“We did not get a whole lot of time to interact with (each other), and I spoke with her very quickly,” Anderson said. “I told her, 'Do your best.'”
As for the entire week of events, the Anderson family enjoyed every minute of it.
“It was very nice, and it was very well done and organized,” Anderson said. “It will have a very positive impact on a lot of kids across the country and Canada. She had a really good time.”
After a very successful summer, which including finishing runner-up finish at the AAU Nationals youth basketball tournament, Faith has just started fifth grade this week at Cason Lane Academy.
As for Washington, he had qualified for the 13- to 14-year-old boys 200-meter dash event. However, on race day he was not able to compete because he fell ill.
“Unfortunately, Marcus came down with an illness that prevented him from attending the North American Finals,” said Thomas Laird, who serves as superintendent for the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department. “His mother reports that he is doing OK. ... This was obviously a huge disappointment for Marcus, as well as the rest of the team. We wish him a speedy recovery and continues to compete. He is a very talented athlete.”
But Washington said he hopes to continue the sport during high school and beyond.
Several other Tennessee young athletes also took part in the North American Finals, and each one represented the state well during the meet.
“All of the athletes tried their best,” Laird said. “Some did not do as well as they had hoped, but that is expected for this level of athlete. Anything short of first place is a bit disappointing.
"This was the first time for all of our athletes to compete in a meet of this magnitude, and I’m sure the inexperience affected how they dealt with the nervous energy. Faith competed in one of the most competitive races at the finals. She did remarkably well, and I feel that we will continue to see her in the spotlight in the future. We are very proud of the entire team and look forward to having them in the future.”
Overall, it was another successful year for the finals, which included trips to the Hershey's Chocolate Brand factory, the company’s theme park and a pep rally with U.S. Olympic legends Lewis and Rafer Johnson.
“The North American Final was a fantastic celebration of excellence,” said Allison Kleinfelter, Hershey’s director of Corporate Communications. “The participating youth were fully engaged from the moment they stepped off the plane in meeting new friends, learning about the Hershey company and the Hershey community and celebrating their accomplishments.”
Yet, there is still a bigger message organizers hope the young athletes receive.
“For us, it’s not about the medals,” Kleinfelter said. “We focus on the incredible learning experience from the courage of traveling away from home and meeting new people to the determination to give their very best in competition.”