Archive for Thursday, April 29, 2010

Track: The oldest sport

April 29, 2010

This spring I have attended several junior high track meets to see my grandson compete. Actually, I have developed a new appreciation for track competitors, coaches and fans.

First, it takes a lot of work to be an outstanding competitor. Unlike football, basketball or baseball, track is an individual sport. Competitors win or lose based on their personal ability, hard work, training and judgment. Unless it is a relay, if you lose you have no one to blame but yourself. It is a sport that teaches young people a lot of life-long lessons.

In some cases, competitors know they can’t win, yet they run or jump to set a personal best. Track has a lot to offer young people. There are the super-fast runners and those who can run a long time in a distance event. At a track meet, you’ll find burley shot putters, tall slim jumpers and runners of all sizes and shapes.

To me, track is a panorama of bright colors and activity. If the weather is nice it is a good way to spend a spring afternoon. On the other hand, it takes endurance to be a fan. If you go to see a child or grandchild compete, you might spend three hours waiting for a few minutes of action.

Let me quickly point out that track was never my sport when I was young. I was very slow of foot, never good at jumping and too lazy to be a distance runner. In high school, I did go out for track a couple of years and my claim to fame was catching the measles.

I believe it was freshman year and I was out for track because it was “kind of” required if you wanted to play football. Since I was devoid of any talent, I joined many others who ran the mile. In a meet at Ottawa, I did run and I wasn’t last but when the race was over, people started staring at me. One of the coaches came over and told that I had a rash on my face. He checked my chest and, yes, I was broken out with a case of the measles. I spent the rest of the afternoon in isolation in the school bus. Maybe that was why I never went out again.

Track is, without a doubt, the oldest sporting event. There are records of track competitions dating back to 776 B.C. Native Americans held foot race competitions as part of their holiday ceremonies. There are records of ancient competitions among Celtic tribes and also in Central and South America. The most famous of the ancient competitions is the Olympics of early Greece.

Organized competition started growing in Europe in the 18th century. France, Germany and Great Britain played host to races regularly. One of the first was at the British Military College at Sandhurst in 1812. Eton started an intramural track program in 1837. One of the first organized competitive meets was at Shrewsbury, Shropshire in 1840. The first national championship meet was in London in 1866.

Running and throwing competitions were very popular on the American frontier. By the middle of the 19th century, attempts were successful in organizing the sport. The New York Athletic Club had its first meet in 1868 and the first national championships were in 1876.

I tried to find the date of the first local high school track team, but I was unsuccessful. I know that 100 years ago, both Bonner Springs and Basehor High School played a limited baseball schedule, but I have found no mention of track. High school track competition in Kansas has been around for a century. This May, the Kansas State High School Activities Association will play host its 100th state championships in Wichita.

Track is a great sport and I congratulate the young men and women who work very hard to compete in various events. And, yes, kudos to the many parents and grandparents who spend spring afternoons away from work or the lawn to cheer them on.

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