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What happened to all the track athletes?

Published: Wednesday, May 17, 2017 11:01 a.m. CDT

This column has been a long time coming.

Now, before I really dive in, let me say a few things. First, this is a subject that obviously holds a special place in my heart. Secondly, kudos to those Creston boys who went out for track and field this year and stuck it out. You have my utmost respect for going out when so few did and for working hard all season.

But that brings me to the issue that cut right to my core this spring sports season – the lack of Creston athletes out for track and field.

I know and understand there are other spring sports. And to those kids who elect to participate in other spring sports, good for you. I know not everyone loves track and field the way I do, and that’s totally fine. I’m glad you’re out for something, working to improve yourselves.

And, for all I know, those other sports could be hurting for numbers, too. I don’t know. Since I’m no longer on the sports beat, I’m a bit out of the loop on all the sports. But, I do know the troubles facing the Creston track program.

There is absolutely no reason a Class 3A program should have only seven boys out for track and field.

In having discussions with people throughout the community, the first thing most people say is, “Well isn’t this the first year the athletes can’t do dual participation?” Yes, that’s true. But let’s be clear here – that didn’t affect participation numbers at all this year.

No, the problem was simply student athletes electing to not go out. I’m sure there’s a plethora of reasons students are not going out for track and field, and for a variety of other sports.

Still, it’s disappointing to see the lack of track and field athletes. There were plenty of great track and field athletes who came before me. Since my time in the program, there have been plenty of great track and field athletes, as well – Brandon Phipps, Jay Wolfe, Bryce Briley, just to name a few.

Wolfe said it best when I spoke with him at the home boys track meet this year, when he said, “It’s disappointing to see the program we helped build like this.”

Track doesn’t have to be someone’s first love to be an important sport. For most student athletes, track and field serves as a combine sport. It makes athletes compete against themselves and against other competitors.

But, most importantly, it gives them indisputable marks to point toward. The stopwatch does not lie. The measuring tape does not lie. Having a solid 100-meter or 400-meter time, a solid mark in the long jump or in the shot put can be huge boosts toward a student athlete’s recruitment.

Jacob Sobotka being able to run a sub-50 second 400 split in the 4x400 relay at nearly 220 pounds is a big part of why he was chosen for a preferred walk-on spot on the Iowa football team out of Mount Ayr.

Whether it’s football, basketball, baseball or whatever the sport may be, track and field is a great complement to an athlete’s No. 1 sport.

Phipps played football and ran track and field in high school before starting his record-breaking track career at Northwest Missouri State University.

After his return to the Drake Relays a few weeks ago as a collegiate, Phipps had this to say: “Track is a sport that involves speed, involves endurance, involves heart and involves mental toughness. I don’t know a sport in the entire world that doesn’t involve speed, endurance, mental toughness and heart and passion. It’s really sad hearing that (lack of participation), but hopefully it’s an opportunity for people to take a step back and realize track is a sport that affects every other sport.”

Phipps is now in the midst of a stellar season for Northwest Missouri State, having broken the school’s 5,000-meter record last week, running 14:25.07.

Phipps was also one of the last four-sport athletes Creston has seen on the boys side. He knows how much track and field can improve an athlete for his or her other sports.

“When I think back to the premier athletes of the last five to seven years, they all ran track,” Phipps said. “Luke Neitzel, Collin Bevins, Jay Wolfe, Bryce Briley, Briar Evans, Seth Maitlen and myself. Athletes should run track. It’s essential for every single sport and had part in why they excelled in the other sports.”

According to Tracking Football, 88 percent of the 2017 NFL Draft picks were multi-sport athletes in high school. Of 2017 draft picks, 62 percent competed in track and field. That was the highest percentage of any sport.

Speaking of Bevins, he recently finished rookie minicamp with the Arizona Cardinals and is now in organized team activities.

He noted, after agreeing to terms on a free agent contract with the Cardinals, how much competing in track and field helped him as a collegiate football player by developing speed and explosiveness. And now, he’s in camp with an NFL team.

Don’t just listen to me, listen to the guy in an NFL camp. Track and field really can help an athlete take his or her performance to the next level.

•••

Contact the writer:

Twitter – @scottvicker

Email – svicker@crestonnews.com

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