Tonawanda News — It begins.
I always figured that my husband and I would eventually be destined for a role as “sports parents.” While he didn’t play many so-called “organized sports” growing up, he made up for it with constant impromptu games with friends (and later rec leagues) ... and I spent years on the school swim teams before burning out in high school. (I still love to swim.)
I envisioned years of T-ball games (I helped with my younger brother’s team, once upon a time), swimming lessons and ... just maybe ... a future as a hockey mom.
Yeah. I could really be a hockey mom.
So far, however, those visions had yet to come to fruition ... until this summer.
Our older son loves basketball, but mainly just in terms of watching games and dribbling a ball around the driveway. He’s not inclined toward actual team sports ... yet. We did a stint in the Special Olympics Young Athletes program, but scheduling conflicts and Jim’s preference for doing his own thing gradually ended that involvement.
And then there’s the younger kid.
If I may be a bragging parent ... Sam’s a born athlete. At 4, he’s more athletic than I’ve ever been, capable of turning somersaults, the occasional back-flip (when jumping on the bed) and outrunning me. (If he gets a head-start and I’m wearing flip-flops.) We wanted to get him started in something ... but what?
He was still too young for most T-ball and soccer programs. Family plans for swim lessons were set for autumn. There didn’t seem to be a convenient location for gymnastics for his age group. If we didn’t find some outlet for all this energy, he was going to drive us nuts within the first week after preschool ended.
Then a chance comment from a preschool classmate’s parent led me to the Town of Tonawanda’s youth track & field program ... for ages 2 to 15, two hours, five days a week, not far from our Town of Tonawanda home, reasonably priced, culminating in a track meet for the kids at the end of July. (And the big invitational track meet a week later for those who qualify.)
For the past five weeks or so, my son has run and jumped his way merrily through the program, making friends, learning the basics and wearing himself out so thoroughly by the end of the day that he sleeps really well. (Bonus!)
I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the coaches and volunteers who made the whole thing happen, especially since coaching any group of small children can often wind up being an exercise in comic frustration. (We have a saying: “Like herding cats.”)
Little kids don’t always stay in their lanes well while running. (My son learned the hard way why you do so during one race. Don’t worry; he’s fine.) They play in the dirt instead of listening. They stop in the middle of races to watch an airplane overhead. (Athletics take a backseat to airplanes when you’re in preschool.) They take their time getting out of the sand pit at the end of the long jump because, hey, it’s sand! (Sam is guilty of this ...) They pick flowers. They chatter. They giggle.
And they learn. They keep trying. They get better.
At the end of the program, I stood at Crosby Field on a recent Wednesday and watched my boy line up with a group of other boys his age, foot on the starting line (more or less) and wait for the whistle.
“On your mark. Get set. Go!”
Major triumph: He started running when the whistle blew.
“Run, Sam, run! Good job! No, don’t stop and wave to the girls! Run!”
When all was said and done, Sam didn’t qualify for the big meet. Maybe he could have if he wasn’t so busy waving to everyone. I don’t know. And I don’t particularly care. Neither does he. Those three red “participation” ribbons (for the 50-meter dash, softball throw and long jump in his age group) are his most prized possessions right now, and they have a place of honor on his bedroom wall.
There is time to worry about instilling a competitive nature in small children. It’ll get there ... and once it does, it’ll create its own problems. But over the past month, he’s learned what it is to work with other children, to listen to a coach, to follow direction (better than he did before, anyway) and to love the sport for the sheer joy of the physical activity.
And that’s priceless.Jill Keppeler is a writer for the Tonawanda News. She can be reached at email@example.com.