The teams’ popup tents ring the Taylor Harmon Track during the 2018 USATF-Maine Youth Championships on Saturday at Cony High School in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

AUGUSTA — Getting the parade of teams started was a little like herding cats. Once it began, however, the parade of athletes on Cony High School’s Harmon Track was a highlight of Saturday’s Maine Youth Track and Field Championship.

Hundreds of athletes from around the state took part in the meet. Most were between the ages of 8 and 14, although a few were even younger. Each event had a winner. If you’re keeping track of who is running faster, or jumping higher, or throwing farther, then of course at the basest level winning is important.

What’s more important, the bigger reason this state meet is such a big deal, is simpler. For one beautiful summer day, hundreds of children were outside. Nobody had a video game controller in their hand. Nobody was binge watching a show. Everybody was outside and exercising. And having too much fun to realize how good it was for them.

A pack of 1500 meter runs goes past the shot put competitors during the 2018 USATF-Maine Youth Championships on Saturday on the Taylor Harmon Track at Cony High School in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Obesity is a problem in this country. It has been a problem for a while. Things like this track and field meet, and all the weeks of practice that led up to it, can combat that. Get children out and moving at a young age, and hopefully, it becomes second nature and a lifelong habit.

Most of the young athletes competing at Cony on Saturday participate in a summer track and field program in a local parks and recreation department. Ken Nadeau, who coaches the high school track and field team at Winslow High School, estimated he had between 40 and 50 students in his summer program, from towns around central Maine. Maine Central Institute track and field coach Jason Allen said the summer program he runs in Pittsfield has grown.

Summer track and field is about instilling a love for the sport. Pick a few events in which to specialize when you get to high school. Here, if you want to sprint, sprint. If you want to jump, jump. Do it all.

“If I have a 7-year old, and this is the first (track and field) they’ve ever done, I’m not working on her technique,” Allen said. “I’ll get her to have fun and try new events.”

The athletes have fun, but they work hard. You can see it on their faces as they run. In a 100 meter dash heat in the girls 8-under division, every runner’s face wore the look of sheer determination, from the gun to the finish line.

“The kids work hard. It gets serious,” Nadeau said.

As is the case with all youth sports, sometimes too serious. Earlier in the meet, Nadeau watched some long jumpers. One athlete had two parents and two coaches bellowing directions as he competed. Was this athlete 13 or 14, one of the older participants in the meet? Perhaps he was on the verge of making the long jump his specialty, or that choice had already been made.

“It was eight and under,” Nadeau said.

Families pay to take part in many summer track and field programs. That means, occasionally the parents choose events in which their kid participates, not the coach. If you’re paying and your heart is set on seeing your son or daughter run the 100, then no coach in the world is going to tell you the child is not a sprinter.

Winthrop 400 meter runner Catherine Cheng sprints of the starting line during the 2018 USATF-Maine Youth Championships on Saturday in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Thankfully, those examples are the exception. The cheering for all athletes in the parade proved sportsmanship won the day. An event earlier, though, proved it.

In the girls 11-12 year old 3,000 meter race, Ruth White of Orono won easily. White lapped many of her fellow competitors, even double-lapped a few. White crossed the finish line more than a minute ahead of anybody else in the race. It’s what she did then, more than anything she did running, that stands out.

White crossed the finish line, and waited. As each of the other runners arrived at the finish, exhausted from the long race, White greeted them with a high five.

Winslow 400 meter runner Alex Beckwith sprints the finish line during the 2018 USATF-Maine Youth Championships on Saturday in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

If White never wins another race in her life, that’s OK. It’s obvious she knows what’s important.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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