Saturday's Hershey Track & Field a treat for all ages

Registration continues through Friday at Zach Gordon Youth Center and Saturday before event
Naomi Welling runs in a middle school track meet in May of this year. Welling competed in last year's Hershey's Track & Field meet and qualified for the national event, which she attended.

Just like the sweet chocolate with the same name, the Hershey’s Track & Field meet is for all ages, at least the event at Thunder Mountain High School on Saturday will be with the addition of an All-Comers portion.

“We would really like to draw some folks of all ages from the community,” Zach Gordon Youth Center Teen Health Advocate Jess Brown said. “All-comer participants could range from parents to older or younger siblings, to competitive runners or really anyone who wanted to just try the events out. Moms, dads, sisters or brothers, the more the merrier for sure.”

Hosted by the ZGYC, the Hershey’s Track & Field meet will have standard official running and field events for youth age 9-14. For All-Comers participants there are the standard events plus additional fun events such as the running long jump, hula-hoop relays, three-legged relay and a water balloon toss.

Now a youth competitor can also compare times with a parental unit. Of course if your daughter is Naomi Welling or your son is Brendan Pietz, you may just want to sit back and enjoy all the action.

Welling and Pietz qualified for last year’s prestigious competition in Hershey, Pa. due to their finishes in the 2011 Juneau games.

Pietz (then 14) threw a softball 181 feet, nine inches and Welling won the standing long jump with a leap of 7-foot-3. Pietz also received the Hershey’s Needham S. Cheely Jr. Scholarship Award of $2000, which is awarded on his freshman year of college. Two 14-year-olds are selected for the award each year at the Hershey’s North American Final Meet. Welling, who has competed through the junior high track programs this year, cannot participate on Saturday as she pulled a muscle in gymnastics.

“Traveling to the national meet was a really cool experience,” Welling said. “Just being able to interact with people from around the country that have the same interests as you was pretty cool. It was good experience on a national level for sports.”

Welling plans to attend the meet to cheer on siblings and friends.

“The meet last year was fun because the kids that did it were kids that were into running like me,” Welling said. “I would like to break a few records in high school for sure and hopefully go on to college. The mile and the 800 and the jumps.”

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.

Juneau youth age 9-14 are encouraged to attend and compete in the official Hershey’s events, not only for the chance to move on with an all-expense paid trip to the national event in Pennsylvania, but to have an exciting competition with other local youth. National Hershey’s meet qualifiers are flown to Hershey, PA, given a grand tour of the chocolate factory and housed for the meet.

In the past, the Hershey’s event used to be an enormous community event in Juneau. Many kids, who were not necessarily avid runners, competed. On a rainy day it was not uncommon to find 75 youth athletes involved, over a 100 on sunny days. A crowd of community cheerleaders and fans was also present.

“We are definitely hoping to revive the meet with some new community energy this year,” Brown said. “And just engage them in some fun and healthy activities. People can compete as seriously as they want to, or just have fun. We definitely promise that this is going to be energetic this year.”

Brown hopes that local area sports teams, from youth soccer and baseball or softball up through adults, form relay teams to compete as groups.

Rumor has it that JDHS senior Jesse Miller is going to attempt a school record at the meet. Other high school athletes are encouraged to try and better their school’s top times, and to encourage the youth participating in the Hershey’s meet.

Early registration for the Hershey’s events continues through Friday at the Zach Gordon Youth Center (and includes free Hershey’s candy). Late registration will be accepted from 11:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m. on the day of the event (Saturday) at the Thunder Mountain High School track and turf field. Only Hershey’s Track & Field participants (ages 9-14) need to register; All-Comers participants do not need to register.

Official Hershey’s events include: 50, 100, 200, and 400-meter dashes; 800 and 1600 meter runs; 4x100 meter relay; standing long jump, and softball throw. Interested parties can call 586-2635 for more details.


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