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Local track & field program brings community together

by MAX OSWALD
Hagadone News Network | July 3, 2024 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — With fun team names like the "Feisty Strawberries" and the "Sassy Sasquatches," and with Sandpoint High varsity track and field athletes as coaches, the Sandpoint Parks and Recreation’s youth track and field program was a hit with local youngsters of all ages this past spring.

The program, which officially started a couple of years ago, has been growing rapidly. This past year the program lasted a full eight weeks (March 18 to May 25), which is more ideal in terms of track complex and coaching availability. The program had three track and field meets over the course of those eight weeks that roughly 120 local youth athletes ages 5 to 12 participated in.

Katherine Richardson, who has acted as the program’s director since its inaugural year, said there is no better way to give back to the community. She remembers being involved in youth sports programs back in the day and helping out with other youth programs once she got older, and believes it’s a great way for youths to gain a sense of belonging and identity. 

“I had a track and field coach when I was younger and he was the same track coach that I had from sixth grade to high school,” Richardson said with admiration of her past coach. “I’m giving back because someone gave back to me … and I think these youth athletes recognize that and will give back themselves one day.”

Richardson, mother of SHS standout athlete Lily Richardson, said what’s neat about the program is that she isn’t actually doing the coaching herself … she oversees roughly 35 Sandpoint high schoolers, most of whom are track and field athletes, that run the program. Each one of those 35 high schoolers is either a head coach, an assistant coach or a field coach. Together, they make sure all of the youth athletes are in the right places, that everyone is getting along, and of course, help to train them in different track and field events.

Some of these coaches from the Sandpoint High track and field team included Saige Smith, Klein Fragoso, Jetta Thaete, Isaac Vermeer, Ivy Smith, Jess Herman, Jimmy and Aaron Cornelius, Nathan Roche, Daniel Ricks, and Torin and Keane Haesle. Sandpoint High head track and field coach Doug Fry, sprints coach Tyler Haynes and girls distance coach Alin Moss were all involved and extremely supportive as well.

“For the high schoolers, it reinforces their skill level and that’s neat,” Richardson said. “It helps them to learn leadership and organizational skills. Not only does it help them as athletes, it helps them as people and is a way to give back to a sport that has done awesome things for them ... The little kids look up to the big kids, the big kids interact with each other — the inner workings of it are awesome, especially because it’s all volunteer. These high schoolers love doing it because they get to hang out with each other and give back to the community.”

The high school coaches are assigned to teams of eight youth athletes. All of the teams competed against each other and had the ability to create their own team names this year — hence team names like the "Feisty Strawberries" and "Sassy Sasquatches."

The community’s high school coaches and youth athletes alike persevered through typical North Idaho conditions like hail, snow, and beating the dark before competing in the program’s three meets this year, which regularly brought in over 300 people in total. One meet was held at Sandpoint High, the other two at Clark Fork High due to impending repairs at the SHS track. Richardson said these meets would not have been possible without the help of CFHS Athletic Director KC MacDonald; she said he was more than accommodating and willing to make it happen. Also a big help was SHS Athletic Director, TJ Clary, who helped to set up a bus to get the youth athletes over to Clark Fork.

At the meets the following events were offered: the 100-meter dash, 50-meter hurdles, long jump, high jump, shot put, and 4x100 relay. Pole vault is set to be offered next year. As the season progressed, a 400-meter dash was added, and during the third meet, youth athletes as young as 5 years old got to partake in the mile, an event lots of youths were interested in. 

“A mile is so long for a 5- or 6-year-old, so the coaches jumped in and ran it with them,” Richardson said. “That definitely was not part of the plan, but was great to see.”

Whether it’s running alongside youth athletes in the mile or teaching them how to use starting blocks or to finish through the finish line — it’s clear that programs like the Sandpoint Parks and Recreation’s youth track and field program are vital for youth athletes of all ages.

"I was telling the sixth graders, 'hey, one of your assistant coaches could be a senior when you're a freshman' and that's a cool relationship to have built where your already coordinating with each other ... it's neat that they're able to make those connections and that's what this program is all about."

Going forward, Richardson said she plans to remain involved with the program and hopes to continue to provide a fun and healthy outlet for local youth athletes.

For more information on the Sandpoint Parks and Recreation youth track and field program, visit https://www.sandpointidaho.gov/your-government/departments/parks-recreation

    A trio of boys stand on the podium after finishing amongst the top three in an event at one of the Sandpoint Parks and Recreation's youth track and field meets held at Sandpoint High this past spring.