By Paula Cronic: PNT Staff Writer
As she stood demonstrating to seven or eight pairs of watchful eyes on how to throw a shot put at the Portales High School track, 14-year-old Samantha Ochoa encouraged the girls to do a couple warm up throws so they could get the hang of it.
“It’s okay just calm down, don’t rush and try your hardest,” said Ochoa to 10-year-old Bethany Cota.
Cota, a newcomer to track and field events, watched on and then took her turn. She lifted her arm, threw the ball and laughed as she watched it fly through the air.
“I’ve never done that before,” Cota said. “I’ve never ever even practiced.”
According to Portales High School assistant girls track coach Sam Lee, who runs the Portales Track Club along with head PHS girls’ track coach Ruth Chavez, children like Cota are part of the reason why they began the program.
“Our goal is to develop the skill levels (of the children) in the events of track and field, and to just generate some interest in the sport,” Lee said.
Chavez said they want to help younger kids become involved in track, and she feels the program also helps to promote physical fitness.
“We want there to be an interest in track,” Chavez said. “We thought if we could get these kids interested in it now, then it would help our program and it would help these kids.”
Spencer Prince, 14, who has been to the practices, said he will probably participate in the next meet and is enjoying the program.
“It gives you something to do over the summer so you’re not out of shape,” he said.
News about the club seems to have spread throughout the community. The club, which holds their practices at 9 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday at the PHS track, has grown since its debut last summer.
“We had averaged about 20 kids per practice (last summer), and last Thursday we had 101 at our practice,” Lee said.
At the track meet held on Thursday, Lee said there were nearly 100 children who registered to participate.
“The parents are being great. I just really appreciate their willingness to bring their kids and let them be a part of this,” Lee said.
Anyone from kindergarten to grade 12 can participate in the practices, and then register to be in events during the track meets. Two more meets will take place at the PHS track. Awards are given out to first-, second- and third-place winners, and then everyone else receives a champion’s ribbon.
“On (Saturday) we are going to host Hershey’s Track and Field Meet,” Lee said. “Local champions from that meet can then qualify to compete at the state meet held in Roswell in July.”
Lee added that if they are champions there, they may be selected to compete at the national meet.
Events that were held on Thursday included the long jump and shot put, the mile run, hurdles and meter races.
“As time goes on, we’re gong to add the javelin, the high jump and the discus,” Chavez said. “We’ll just keep adding field events to it.”
Ochoa and the rest of the high school track and field team are at each event coaching the children, which Chavez said is a good way to become role models.
“I enjoy coaching the little ones. They’re really nice to you and they respect you cause it’s nice when you can learn like this instead of on your own,” Ochoa said.