In the Developmental Track & Field Series, a partnership between the NYC Department of Education’s Office of School Wellness Programs and New York Road Runners, children in grades 3–8 are introduced to the basics of sport, but that’s not all they learn. They learn that events come in a certain order, and that you need to be ready on time. They learn about self-control . They learn that older kids can help teach younger kids.
They learn things, said NYRR event coordinator Simon Durkin, “as simple as running through the finish line.”
What began in 2004 with four schools coming together for a meet in Lower Manhattan with 150 kids has grown into a five-borough program of 45 events. When the 2012 tally was completed at the end of June, the numbers showed that roughly 16,000 students from 142 actively participating schools were served this spring. The final event of the 2012 season, the City Championship, was held Saturday, June 2, at Icahn Stadium.
“We’ve certainly seen some talent in these meets,” said Emily Sarokhan, manager of youth events for NYRR’s Youth and Community Services department. “We seem to appeal to all ranges of ability, but we try to maintain a developmental focus, to encourage kids who’ve never done this before to come out.”
In the free DTFS program, participating schools choose a teacher-coach to attend an orientation clinic and are provided with coaching guidance and equipment from NYRR.
The 12-week season consists of developmental meets, a Borough Championship, and the City Championship; in Manhattan, there is also a Section Championship. All of the practices and meets except the City Championship are held during the school day, often as an extension of the schools’ physical education programs. Because few schools have regular access to a track, practices are often held in the gym or at a playground or park. At the developmental meets only the relays are timed, and coaches are urged to choose athletes to move on to the Borough Championships based on attendance and effort instead of solely on speed and ability.
“They’re all getting the opportunity to participate, and that’s what this definitely is all about,” said Durkin. “From developmental to championship meets, everyone is learning all the time. The kids are learning, the coaches are learning, everyone is learning from one another.”
John DeMatteo, the physical education teacher who approached NYRR for help in organizing that first meet and who is still deeply involved in the program, said that the track meets in which he competed during high school and college were life-changing for him, and that he wanted his students to have the same experience.
“Aside from the obvious health and fitness components that come with the sport of track and field, there is no other sport in the world that will teach kids to set goals and to pursue self-improvement like running,” he said. Seeing progress on the track, he said, can prompt a child to make the leap from “I didn't think I could run a mile in under eight minutes but I did” to “I didn't think I could go to college but now I can.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg