Inaugural Wildcat Run Club meet packed with cheers, smiles, and sunshine

News Photo by James Andersen Members of the Wildcat Run Club race to the very end during a heat of the boys 70 meter dash on Sunday at Thunder Bay Junior High School.

ALPENA — Six weeks of hard work culminated in a day filled with sunshine, can-do attitude and plenty of encouragement for members of the Wildcat Run Club on Sunday at Thunder Bay Junior High School.

For six weeks, local youngsters have been working diligently on different aspects of track and field and more than six dozen kids competed in the inaugural Wildcat Run Club meet.

“I was astonished by the turnout,” Emily Szymanski, head of Run United Alpena, said. “I thought it went amazing, it went better than I ever dreamed or expected.”

Decked out in their black Wildcat Run Club T-shirts, kids competing in Sunday’s meet got to try their hand at several events, including the long jump, the mile run, the shot put and the 70 meter dash.

There were no medals awarded during the meet, but there was plenty of cheering, hugs, high-fives and plenty of smiles from the kids, the volunteer coaches, and spectators alike as the kids were encouraged to enjoy the meet and do their best.

News Photo by James Andersen Emily Szymanski, director of the Wildcat Run Club, explains runners’ bibs for different events before the club’s track meet on Sunday at Thunder Bay Junior High School.

“What’s today about? Having fun,” Szymanski reminded the participants before the meet, telling them that everyone was going to set a new PR (personal record) before the end of the day.

“Part of what we did through the six week curriculum, we would have motivating quotes,” Szymanski said. “There was always a lesson. A couple of weeks, we talked about teamwork, sportsmanship. We talked to the kids about ‘This is about being the best you.’ You cheer for them to be a good teammate. That was a theme we tried to carry out.”

Run United Alpena began in the fall of 2021 as a booster program for Alpena’s track and cross country teams, but subsequent conversions turned to the idea of creating a program for kids to get involved in sports, stay active, and be introduced to running sports.

A three-week pilot program was held last year at Hinks and Sanborn elementary schools, but the ultimate goal was to create a program where more students could participate.

The program is funded by Run United through grants and grew to include more than 150 fourth and fifth graders this spring with students from each of Alpena’s elementary and parochial schools participating.

News Photo by James Andersen High school mentor Natalie Koproski leads Wildcat Run Club members in high kicks before the start of Sunday’s track meet at Thunder Bay Junior High School.

The six-week free program began in April and was held each week during lunch recess. It began with leading students in warm-up exercises and pacing so they would be able to run the entire time during program sessions.

Subsequent weeks added long runs, sprints, throwing, relays, long jump and endurance running.

The program helped local youngsters stay active, but it also served as a way for members of Alpena High School’s track teams to give back and participate as mentors.

In all, 30 volunteers helped put participants through their paces.

“We had some incredible, positive feedback,” Szymanski said. “Several coaches said they didn’t know how much it was going to impact them. I think the coaches got so much back, we all got as much as we gave.”

News Photo by James Andersen Alpena junior Aidan Weitting, right, instructs a youngster during a stretching exercise before the Wildcat Run Club’s track meet on Sunday at Thunder Bay Junior High School.

Though some of them may have been tired at the end of day, Szymanski said many kids commented on how fun the meet was.

“It was amazing,” Szymanski said. “The best (comment) I heard all day was a little boy (who) asked if we could do this every Sunday. The feedback has been amazing.”

News Photo by James Andersen A group of runners competes in the girls’ mile run, the first event during the Wildcat Run Club’s track meet on Sunday at Thunder Bay Junior High School.

News Photo by James Andersen Another participant is all smiles after competing in the long jump.

News Photo by James Andersen A youngster goes flying through the air during his turn in the long jump.

News Photo by James Andersen Members of the Wildcat run club compete in a heat of the girls 70 meter dash.


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