Oak Ridge hosts youth track meet series

Tyler Burns, 12, of El Dorado Hills demonstrates how to pole vault during the Friday Nights Under the Lights youth track and field meet on June 28 at Oak Ridge High School. Photo by Ernest Valenzuela III
Tyler Burns, 12, of El Dorado Hills demonstrates how to pole vault during the Friday Nights Under the Lights youth track and field meet on June 28 at Oak Ridge High School. Photo by Ernest Valenzuela III

The Sacramento Running Association has partnered with Oak Ridge High School to host a series of free youth track meets this summer. Calling it Friday Nights Under the Lights, SRA is on a mission to improve children’s fitness by introducing them to an active lifestyle at an early age.

The third and final meet is this Friday, July 5, from 7 to 9:30 pm. Children ages 8-15 are invited to attend.

The meets are not only free, but an opportunity to qualify times for larger United States Track Association meets. Placerville resident and youth track coach Linda Frazier also likes that the series introduces young athletes to new track and field events they wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to try.  Frazier works with the Sacramento based running group Buffalo Chips and brought 15 young athletes from around the greater Sacramento area to Oak Ridge.

“USTA meets are big and long and each athlete is only allowed three events,” she said. “These little meets can help kids try something they’ve never tried before. There are clinics and coaching offered; one of my girls is going to try the high jump for the first time.”

Events offered: 100-meter, 200-meter, 400-meter, 800-meter, 1,500-meter, 3,000-meter, 4×100, 4×400, long jump, high jump, short hurdles, turbo javelin and pole vault clinic.

El Dorado Hills resident Deanna Roth is thrilled with the opportunity for her daughters. Morgan, 10, and Laney, 8, both qualified for the 1,500-meter at the first Friday night meet but missed the 400 by seconds so were back to try again on June 28. They will race at the 2013 Track City International Classic Track Meet at the University of Oregon later this month.

Grouped by age, the girls ran in the same heat for the 400. They had to go once around the Oak Ridge track in 85 seconds to qualify. Mom Deanna said she felt “excited” but once the start gun was raised she turned to say she also felt some butterflies.

The girls ran fast despite the heat, but came in just seconds short of their goal once again. “We still have next Friday night,” Coach Frazier told them. “We’ll get them there. It’ll be cooler then too.”

Deanna said she’s grateful for the series of meets. The family would have had to find another open meet before Oregon if not for the Friday Nights series; the closest one is in Stockton, she said.

The Roth girls took it in stride. “I like racing,” said Morgan. “If I don’t qualify for the 400 next Friday night I know I’m doing the 1,500 and 800 in Oregon for sure. The 800 is my favorite because it’s not super short and it’s not super long.”

Oak Ridge was chosen to host the SRA youth track series because of assistant running coach and 2007 Oak Ridge alum Alex Mansoor. Mansoor also heads SRA’s youth fitness programs and comes from California running royalty. His father John Mansoor co-founded the California International Marathon along with Fleet Feet founder Sally Edwards.

“I hope to make this an annual tradition,” Alex said. “We want to reach out to kids all over the Sacramento region.”

El Dorado Hills resident Lauren Anderson was at the event recruiting runners and volunteers for the upcoming Run For Courage on September 28.  The Folsom race director and lifelong runner said the first annual track series reminded her of her own youth and the free running event that first sparked her own love of running.

“My mom used to take us to the ARCO/Jesse Owens Games while we were growing up in Portland,” she said.

The free track and field games served one million children a year from 1964-1994 and targeted children 8 to 15 years old too. Anderson said it had the same casual, stress-free atmosphere. “We’d just walk up, say our name, race and walk away with ribbons. I loved it!”

Deanna said she loves that Friday Nights Under the Lights is about introducing kids to running and what track meets are all about, something the SRA believes in turn will help combat childhood obesity. On fliers for the event some statistics are grim: “33 percent of American children are overweight or obese,” and, “For the first time in history, children born today have a life expectancy lower than their parents.”

The SRA Friday Nights Under the Lights Track Series is directly funded by proceeds from the 2012 California International Marathon charity entries. Visit RunSRA.org for more information.

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