BY MICHAEL KELLY
CLIFTON PARK — Kids are able to find places to start kicking a soccer ball as soon as they are able to walk, and finding places to swing a bat or shoot hoops is not exactly difficult.
Track and field, though, is a sport most do not usually get a chance to try out until middle or high school.
The Clifton Park Track Club is helping to change that for area youngsters, a group which puts together one practice and one meet per week during July at Shenendehowa High School for boys and girls interested in trying out the sport.
“It’s about two things,” said Rob Cloutier, the school’s varsity coach for girls and one of the club’s leaders. “One, this is a chance to get kids out being healthy during the summer because track and field is a healthy sport. Two, for us, we never hurt for raw numbers in terms of people on our high school teams, but Shenendehowa has an amazing athletic department, so we’re trying to hook some talented kids early.”
Mallory Baker, an assistant track and field coach at the high school level, is in her third year working with the Clifton Park Track Club. A 2006 graduate of Shenendehowa, Baker now teaches at Arongen Elementary School — and most of the kids in the track club are elementary-age. Interested athletes are able to start with the club in first grade and are able to continue with it for as long as they want; at a July 14 meet, competitors ranged from first-graders to just-graduated high school seniors.
“But we have mostly fourth-, fifth-, and sixth-graders, which is good for us,” said Baker, meaning those athletes are soon able to join one of the school programs as seventh-graders.
“It’s a program that gets kids into track at an early age,” Baker said. “It’s all about exposure — exposing them to the sport to see if they like it.”
Typically, the group meets on Tuesdays to practice and competes in in-house meets on Thursdays. (The July 14 meet was on a Tuesday as a makeup from the past week.) At each meet, an athlete is allowed to compete in two track events and one field competition.
Athletes decide which events to compete in at meets, and get an opportunity to give each event a try at practices.
“We have them all do a group warmup of a lap, break them up by age group, and we take them into different stations from there,” Baker said of the club’s practices. “We have a jumping station, a baton station, and [others[, and they get to all of them for 15 minutes each.”
While the club presents the chance for athletes to try out something new, the group’s coaches get to take a break from their usual roles, too. As a head coach in the fall, winter, and spring running seasons, Cloutier said picking out the best part of the July track club is easy for him.
“I’m not in charge of this one,” said Cloutier, who only coaches the high jump in the summer. “This one is all young kids and it’s a lot of fun.”