Steamboat Springs youth track camp is a playground of fun
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — It’s hard to get excited about a sport dominated by running, which usually serves as punishment or conditioning in other sports.
But on Thursday, kids in kindergarten through eighth grade were eagerly jumping into blocks to challenge their friends to foot races, clapping hands as they completed legs of the shuttle hurdle relays and dusting their calves off from the sandy landing at the long jump pit.
“Track is unique in that you choose your own passion,” Steamboat Springs High School head track and field coach Lisa Renee Tumminello said. “I love that experience for kids because they learn they don’t have to like high jump, but they can run the 100-meter dash.”
The Steamboat Springs Youth Track Camp took a hiatus last year during the Gardner Field renovation but ran its fourth year this week. Tumminello started the camp a year after she started coaching the high school team, hoping to generate a love for track at a young age.
It takes a level of creativity to make track interesting to a wide range of kids, but Tumminello describes it as a playground.
Each day starts with a dynamic warmup or a game of sharks and minnows to get the kids ready. Then, the kids split into groups to learn the technique for different events, and the coaches will create games out of them to keep the kids engaged. Middle school kids will receive more technical feedback on each event.
A total of 60 kids came to this year’s track camp, which is lower than in previous years since the track camp wasn’t around last year. Tumminello sees participation increasing next year. She also had 20 high school track athletes volunteering to help with the camp.
“Watching them improve over the four days is kind of impressive for how little they are and how much energy they always have,” Steamboat Springs High School graduate and volunteer Kari Saunders said. “I hope these kids doing it now continue doing track in high school and then volunteer. I hope that keeps going on, then they’ll teach those kids.”
The track camp concluded with an all-day meet, complete with different stations from 9 a.m. to noon. This year was the first time the camp had pole vault as an option for kids to try. Jumps coach Gene Bridgewater led the station, putting the smallest kids up on a wooden podium where they can jump a short distance with the pole to the padded pit. Most kids said it was their favorite.
The track meet culminated with a set of relay races then an awards ceremony, where kids received medals for their performance. Tumminello also wanted to make sure she taught them the importance of sportsmanship and racing against themselves.
“Chasing your personal record and being the best version of yourself is so much more important that competing against your teammate,” Tumminello said. “We’ve given them race bibs, and we’ve said to them that if you would like your mark or time or distance, the coaches are writing it down, so they can keep that.”
To give the kids a visual of what each event entails, Tumminello added a 30-minute video session on Wednesday. In the past, she didn’t want to take away from time outside, but she found the videos generated more interest in the sport.
“It gives them a vision,” Tumminello said. “They’re inspired, and today, they were out here trying to make noises like the Olympic shot putter.”
The camp is held annually, and proceeds benefit a different charity every year, so the kids aren’t just racing for themselves, but a greater cause. This year’s camp benefitted the Sancy Shaw Scholarship, which is awarded to a graduating high school senior student athlete with excellent academic performance and a love for the outdoors.
“That’s us saying ‘thank you,'” Tumminello said. “Not holding the camp last year made it hard to get the word out, but now the momentum will be back growing it next year.”
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