By Jim Sullivan
---- — Fourteen future area track stars will be headed down to Hudson this weekend to put themselves to the test against the rest of the state in the Hershey’s Track and Field Games Massachusetts Finals.
“The program brings exposure to track,” said coach Mike McCormick, who runs the local Hershey program for the Winner’s Circle Running Club. “Kids learning how to run and the basics of track. We have a lot of kids in the Newburyport High track program who have come through our program like Ryan Dionne, who was a league champion. So it also gives some kids some exposure.”
The largest youth sports program in the United States and Canada, the Hershey’s Track and Field Games promotes fitness and a love of competition. The Games involve hundreds of thousands of kids and whittles those numbers down to mere hundreds for the North American Finals in Hershey, Pa. McCormick who, along with his wife, Stella, has been running the local program for the past 13 years, has fielded six Hershey finalists along the way.
“Every other sport has a youth program except track,” said McCormick. “So that is one of the reasons why we started it.”
These young athletes, ages 9 through 14, started training back in April and hail from the Newburyport, Amesbury, Georgetown, Pentucket and Triton towns and school systems. McCormick says that he looks for his group to finish well in the 400- and 800-meter races.
“The idea is to give the kids some exposure without too much coaching,” said McCormick. “So it is limited by age group. The 9- and 10-year-olds do the 50 (meters), the 100, the 200 and the 400. That’s it. The 11- and 12-year-olds do the 100, 200, 400 and the 800. The 13- and 14-year-olds (also) do the 1,600. And the only field events are the softball throw and the standing long jump for all age groups.”
Matthew Quinn, 10, a Molin fourth-grader who runs the 400 and 800, started the Hershey program two years ago. He has been down to the statewide competition twice and will be headed to Hudson again this year. Quinn, who also plays soccer and basketball, placed sixth in the 400 in his second year.
“They can expect a lot of pressure and a lot of people watching,” Quinn said of the newcomers this year. “And it just feels great afterwards.”
Now in her second year in the program, Casey Pedersen, 10, a fourth-grader at the Page School in West Newbury, used to play soccer but has recently focused solely on track.
“I just like to run,” said Pedersen. “There are not too many rules, and you get to do a lot of the events.”
This will be Pedersen’s first time at the state meet, where she will run the 200.
“I just don’t want to be under pressure too much,” said Pedersen.
Headed down for her third trip is Molin fifth-grader Olivia Sousa, 11, who will be competing in the standing long jump. She placed eighth two years ago and seventh last year.
“I like it because you get to see how far you really can go,” Sousa said of the standing long jump.
“There are a lot of people, and there is pressure,” Sousa said. “Because there are people there that you don’t know, and you don’t know how fast they are. I think I am going to do OK. Because sometimes when I try it, I get scared.”
Sousa and her friends will also be joined by Nathan Miller, Connor Miles, Dreese Fadil, Nicholas Gonzalez, Thomas Tracy, Jaryd Plante, Erin Sullivan, Kayla Pelletier, Kelsey Soule, Maeve Taylor and Katherine O’Connor.
“They are a great group,” McCormick said. “They’ve been working really hard, and they should do well. It’s pretty heavy competition, but they should do well.”