The Bonney Lake/Sumner-based Hill and Valley Track Club qualified 13 athletes for the Jr. Olympics Regional Competition this weekend in Spokane and is hoping to send a number of them to nationals.
Three years ago the Bonney Lake/Sumner area did not even have a youth track and field program. Now it could end up sending a large group to nationals.
The Hill and Valley Track and Field team qualified 13 competitors ranging in age from 8-17 years old for the USATF Jr. Olympics Regional Competition that takes place this weekend in Spokane. Just two years after the program was re-started, the team now has a chance to send a large group to nationals.
“Honestly, I believe, I have eight, maybe 10, who could actually qualify [for nationals]," team founder and coach James Henderson said.
The program is the brain-child of Henderson, a former state champion hurdles runner at Bethel High School in Spanaway. After the initial program died seven years ago due to a lack of interest, Henderson decided to give it a go after watching his daughter compete in middle school.
“My daughter was running for the middle school and I noticed the coaches were not what I would want for my kid," Henderson said. "Unfortunately, the schools only have so many funds for coaches, so I talked to wife, we researched what we needed to do, got together with parks and rec and just went from there.”
In its first year, the program had about 20 participants and sent three members to the regional competition. Just a year later, the program grew to 42 and qualified all 13 of its competitive runners for the regional competition, despite the fact that all but four team members were new in 2011.
Henderson said he has been surprised by the success of the team, saying his original goal was only to teach eager runners the proper techniques.
“All I wanted to do was teach these kids how to run proper, have fun and keep getting better and better," Henderson said. "We lucked out and got a whole bunch of kids with a lot of fight inside, kids who would not give up and kept pushing. Every challenge we would present to them, they would take it and it would be ‘what’s next?’”
The biggest obstacles that Henderson has faced have come in the form of finding volunteer coaches for the team and fundraising to send the kids to competitions. Henderson is hoping a pancake breakfast on July 16th at the Bonney Lake Applebee's will help out with funding for nationals.
“The way the economy is right now, it’s just so hard to raise money," Henderson said.
Henderson is hoping the teams glut of success and subsequent community recognition will help with the coaching issue. This years team had 42 members, but just four coaches.
“This season, people are now talking about us,” Henderson said. “Hopefully, next year it’s bigger and we can bring in some more coaches.”
Despite the difficulties with fundraising and finding volunteers, Henderson said the program has been a success due to the commitment of thos involved with it.
“I could not have done any of this without my wife and assistant coaches," Henderson said. "They’ve helped me a lot and it would not have happened without all of their help.”
The team will have two participants in shot put, one in javelin, one in discus, four in the long jump, one in the triple jump, two in the 3000 meters, four in the 1500, three in the 800, two in the 400 and a 4X800 relay team. Check back after the weekend for updates on the regional competition.