Brendan Peitz and Naomi Welling are the latest Juneau kids to qualify for the prestigious Hershey’s Track & Field Games this weekend in Hershey, Pa.
The Hershey’s Track & Field Games is the largest youth sports program of its kind in America, and more than 10 million athletes ages 9-14 have participated in its 34 years.
The festivities for the 34th Annual North American Meet began Thursday with the opening ceremony. Today, the kids take regional team photos, have a regional team workout on the track, tour the Hershey’s Chocolate plant, visit the Hershey Park Entertainment Complex and Hershey’s Chocolate World.
Saturday begins with a parade of the athletes, followed by the meet, a post-meet celebration and then a dance before returning home on Sunday.
Pietz, who will soon begin his freshman year at Thunder Mountain High School, will compete in the softball throw, an event he was a spur-of-the-moment entrant — and winner with a throw of 181 feet, nine inches — at the Hershey’s meet in Juneau in the spring.
“Me and a couple of my buddies decided we were going to do this (Hershey’s) track meet,” he said. “We went to that and did a couple of events. My mom said I should do the softball throw since I play baseball, so I did. I threw three times and that was that.”
Welling, 13, runs cross-country and track & field at Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School, where she’ll enter the eighth grade this fall. She also participates in gymnastics. She’ll compete in the standing long jump after winning the event in the local Hershey’s meet with a leap of 7-foot-3.
“My dad took me out in the yard and taught me how to do the standing long jump,” she said. “We went to the meet at Thunder Mountain and I tried it. I was very surprised that I won.”
Welling said her gymnastics background gave her an advantage.
“We do lots of leg conditioning and we have to keep our muscles strong, so that helps a lot,” she said.
Both said the news of their qualification for the North American Final came as a big surprise.
Pietz was on vacation, and Welling was working at her friend’s fishing lodge.
“My dad got a call from the lady and she said I was going to get to go, and that it’s all expenses paid,” Pietz said. “We get to stay for five days and participate in the track meet, meet Olympians, and go to the amusement park and chocolate factory.”
“My mom called and said, ‘Wow, you qualified for the long jump,’” Welling added.
Pietz was already familiar with the North American Final meet after his friend, Riley Moser, competed for the 800-meter run in the 2009 meet.
Welling said she’s most excited about going to the amusement park, while Pietz said he’s looking forward to meeting all the kids his age.
Both said they have been practicing.
“I’ve gone to the baseball field a few times, seeing how far I can throw a softball,” Pietz said. “When I was on vacation I brought a buddy with me, and we were out practicing one day. We got to testing my range and I threw one 215 feet. I hope I can throw pretty far (at the meet). I’m still figuring out my step and once I get that down, I’ll be doing pretty well.”
“I think I jumped 7-6 practicing one day,” Welling added. “I just want to jump 7-3 or better.”
Welling has been to Hershey before, and Pietz is on the Midnight Suns baseball travel team, but Pennsylvania will be the farthest east he’s been.
“(My parents) think it’s going to be a really good experience for me,” said Pietz.
• Follow Brendan and Naomi’s progress at www.hersheystrackandfield.com/track-meet-central.aspx