Turnout low, enthusiasm high at Hershey’s Homer event

  • Ethan Pitzman gets ready to cross the finish line of the 800-meter dash, with Peter Syth close behind in second place. The Hershey Track and Field Games were held Saturday in Homer for the first time in several years, attracting 18 youths between the ages of 9 and 14.-Photo by Heather Ericson
  • Participants at the Hershey’s Track and Field Games on Saturday pose for a group photo after the event held at the Homer High School track.-Photos by Heather Ericson
  • Tim Hatfield competes in the long jump Saturday at the Hershey’s Track and Field Games. -Photos by Heather Ericson

Although the weather was stunning on Saturday, the turnout for the Hershey’s Track and Field Games was low. Still, the 18 participants gave it their all and raced as if there was an enormous crowd cheering them on. 

Next year, Mike Illg, coordinator of the city of Homer’s Community Recreation Program and sponsor of the games, plans to get more kids involved. 

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to get kids active, having fun and to learn more about the sport of track and field,” said Illg. 

Next year, he hopes to do it earlier in the month, when kids are still in school, so more kids can be involved. 

The Hershey’s Youth Program dates back to 1975 and Dr. Donald Cohen, who also funded the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in the United States. The program is big in other parts of the United States, with 400,000 youngsters participating in an opportunity to refine their natural abilities. The program is designed to stress fun, rather than competition.

This is the first time in several years the event has been held in Homer. Officials hope it will start up in other Kenai Peninsula communities. The volunteers are pleased that it is part of Homer now. 

“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to learn early on the lessons of sportsmanship, an active lifestyle, and competiveness,” said Mary Kate Green, a volunteer at the games.

The Homer High School new track put in last fall was an ideal venue for the event.

Participants were divided into age groups: boys 9-10 and girls 9-10; boys 11-12 and girls 11-12; and boys 13-14 and girls 13-14.

Each registered child participated in two track events and one field event or two field events and one track event.

The Kachemak Bay Running Club and volunteers supported the days’ activities of softball throws, long jump, the 4X100 relay, and 50-, 100-, 200-, 400- and 800 meter dash.

“It benefits the community by promoting an active, healthy lifestyle for the youth and the community volunteers,” said Illg. 

The top five finishers in each event received ribbons, and everyone got T-shirts, a certificate of participation and Hershey’s chocolate bars. 

Heather Ericson is a freelance writer and photographer who lives in Homer.

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