I was lost when I walked into my first Chaparral High track and field meet this season. What were the events again? I knew there were sprints and distance events, some jumping and throwing and relays of some sort. I wasn’t quite sure which part was track and which was field. I knew a little bit about the pole vault, because for some reason my freshman daughter had decided to try planting a 12-foot pole into a three-foot hole and see if she could soar into the air.
Emily Kaplan, the author's daughter, attempts a vault during track practice at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale.
I had arrived late, and I didn’t know the order of things. How much had I missed? How long do these things go on? And where were my kids among the sea of red and white Firebird warmups lounging on the football field inside the track?
Standing by the fence along the finish line, I hoped one of them would see me and decide to acknowledge me. Then Emily came racing down the track, in what I later learned was the 200-meter dash. She came in second in an exhibition heat. Looked good to me, but she was disappointed because she hadn’t beaten her best time.
Best times. Exhibition heats. A co-ed sport that offers plenty of time for socializing and flirting between events. This was starting to sound familiar.
Our children have been swimmers for many years, and the similarities are striking. I knew from our swim coaches that track was great cross-training, but I never realized the two sports had so much in common. The scoring has parallels, with points given in descending order based on your finish, all combined for the team score at the end of the meet. You try different events and, as you grow, begin to specialize in one or two. Like swimming, the athletes carb load at pasta parties before each meet.
Chaparral has some terrific track and field athletes, including state champ pole vaulter Liz Portanova, sprinter Nikko Landis, twin distance runners Shane and Shawn Maule, and triple-jumper Cody Moore. They benefit from an excellent coaching staff, with decades of experience and an Olympic gold medal in the trophy case of pole vault coach Nick Hysong.
But it’s a huge team and it appears that most of the kids, like mine, are there to learn and have fun and stay in shape. That takes a lot of the pressure off the kids, though it’s not necessarily a recipe for a championship team. Maybe that’s not surprising, given all the emphasis on football, basketball and baseball, and the club sports that take up every moment in between. Still, it’s a shame for those dedicated, one-sport athletes who miss the chance to sample what high school has to offer and try something new.
I find my way to the bleachers and recognize a family whose son joined the team last year. They patiently answer my questions and explain some of the rules. I’m still scouring the field for my son when he whizzes by in another exhibition heat of the 200-meter dash. It’s his first race ever and he looks great.
It occurs to me that I’ve never seen my kids run like that, a full-on sprint with techniques they had surely learned in the past few weeks of practice. They might never run track again, but these were lessons they could take with them. I was learning, too, about a new sport, meeting a new batch of families who were cheering on the team and reacquainting with parents I hadn‘t seen in years.
The regular season ends with a home meet April 21 against Desert Mountain, followed by the Scottsdale City Meet on April 28. That’s likely the end of the season for my junior-varsity track dabblers. Regionals and finals are set for early May.
Emily is still working on getting over the crossbar in competition. I’m in awe that she’s chosen what looks like an impossibly difficult event and she loves it. But she turned down her first chance to compete at the last meet, afraid that she’d fail, and she wasn’t entirely happy with her decision. That’s the beauty of high school: You can still miss opportunities, make mistakes and take chances, without so much at stake. The next opportunity she gets to soar into the air, I’m betting she takes it. — Mary K. Reinhart