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Nations: The journey starts now for track and field athletes

Jeff Nations

You might have noticed a trend in today's sports section, a definite focus on a certain spring sport.

Maybe you didn't -- the four track and field stories I've written for today's paper may well have escaped notice. If that's the case, no worries. Since I can't get the sport out of my system this time of year, how about a column focused on track and field?

Let's face it -- when it comes to track and field season, it's better to catch those meets at the end than the beginning anyway. The appeal of outdoor meets in the always challenging March weather has never been high on my to-do list, nor many but the hardiest parents, siblings, assorted relatives and significant others with a vested interest in said competition. As a spectator sport, track in March is often a test of endurance and cold tolerance. The athletes don't fare much better, either. Much of the focus isn't so much on producing best results, but rather surviving the elements without injury. It doesn't get much better in April, either, with those taunting sunny days and rip-roaring gusts of wind occasionally blowing snowflakes.

It's all building toward something, though, and that something is right now. District meet season is upon us, and from here on out everything counts. All the work, all the practice, all the frigid mid-week quads and weekend invitationals, all was endured for these next few weeks.

The Evergreen District actually jumped the gun a bit by holding its meet last week, one of the few in the state to do so, but today area track and field aficionados will have to choose between the Bull Run District meet at Strasburg or the Northwestern District meet at Handley. Then on Thursday, there is the option of trekking up to East Rockingham to watch Stonewall Jackson compete in the Shenandoah District meet.

In May, I can't think of a better spectator sport than track and field. The weather -- sometimes -- can be beautiful, and most often is at least tolerable. The athletes on the track, down at the jump pits and in the throwing area rounding into peak form. The controlled chaos that characterizes any big meet -- multiple events going on at once, hordes of multi-colored jerseys representing so many individual athletes waiting for their moment -- it's a sight to behold.

For more years than I care to admit, I've covered more sporting events than I could possibly recall. Sports writers operate by the seasons of the year, and in Virginia spring is the busiest of all. We have baseball and softball often playing simultaneously on adjoining fields, boys and girls soccer often doing the home-and-away routine although sometimes stacking a home doubleheader on the schedule, tennis doing the same -- plenty to keep us busy.

But track and field, starting right now, has always been a personal favorite. It's a team sport, but so individual as well. Every performance counts toward the team goal of winning a championship, of course, but each and every athlete has their own personal goals -- running faster, throwing further, jumping higher or longer -- that may or may not count toward that ultimate team total. That doesn't make their accomplishments any less relevant, though. Now, after all, is the time to be at their best no matter what their best might be.

Last year, I capped off my spring season with a road trip to Radford to catch the Group A state meet. It's a long drive, but well worth it for me. It was a chance to see off a few of our area's top athletes with the stakes at their highest. Some faltered, some soared -- that's the nature of track and field, where each event is an individual drama contributing to the whole. A year ago, it was Stonewall Jackson's boys team that stood front and center as state champions. John Michael Pirtle and Dylan Shirley, both now competing and thriving at the NCAA Division I collegiate level, raised their personal levels of achievement to new heights and the Generals' fortunes rose right along with them to a state title.

Who will step forward this year, and rise to the highest level? Maybe no one, but most likely at least a few will end up state champions. The first act of this three-part drama starts with these district meets, and right about now is the perfect time to get out and see how it all unfolds.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>


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