This time last year, the Rock Springs High School (RSHS) track and field team was competing at the state meet in Casper. However, due to the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, not only did the team not get to go to state, but they missed out on the entire season.
Casey Walker, RSHS head track and field coach, said the whole team was disappointed over the season being canceled. This was his first year as head coach, though he has been coaching multiple sports for years, and he was excited about the large turnout of athletes they had in the first and only week of practice.
“I was really excited after our first week of practice with having over 100 kids out and how they were taking ownership of what we as a coaching staff wanted to see from them,” Walker said.
Not only did the coaching staff and athletes want to see good performances throughout the season, but their primary goal for the season was to create a more positive culture within the program.
“The number one thing in talking with staff and athletes preseason that came up was to push the culture to one that the expectations were to support all events and break up some cliques so that all involved understood and respected what each other did for the track and field program,” Walker said. “The kids took ownership of this from day one and it was really taking off.”
Another way to increase participation and better the culture of the program was for the coaching staff to find as many meets as possible that allowed both Varsity and JV teams with unlimited entries so all of the track and field team members could compete at meets.
Walker believes that even with the virus disrupting the season, they were able to move toward their goals of a more inclusive and positive program.
“The focus was, and is, to build this program in a positive direction and increase the number of participants. Even with this COVID-19 crisis and not having face to face time with them, I still feel like this was starting to get accomplished, but obviously not the same way any of us envisioned,” Walker said.
The coaches set up a Google Classroom to post workouts for all the athletes that they could do on their own at home. The workouts included event specific drills as well as general workouts. These workouts not only kept the kids active and involved, but they could work through the drills toward a letter.
“Part of our original lettering requirements included the chance to earn a letter by carrying a 3.0 GPA for the semester and we kept that plus being able to do some things without our Google Classroom,” Walker said.
Walker said the letters still had to be earned, as he doesn’t believe in participation trophies.
“The thing is, we wanted them to have a chance to earn that letter because so much has already been taken away that is completely out of the athletes and coaches’ hands,” he said.
Walker said there is no reason the RSHS track program shouldn’t have 100 to 150 kids on the track and field team every year, and he and his coaching staff plan to continue building the program up in the coming season.
“My coaching staff has been amazing and more than carried their share of the load. They all care about these kids and are in it for the right reasons,” Walker said. “I am as disappointed in the fact that I didn’t get to see my coaches’ hard work come to the tangible results as I am for the athletes they work with.”
Season Goals Shattered
Senior track athletes, Brixen Mathis, Jackson Peek and Allison McConnel all shared their experience with the canceled track season with SweetwaterNOW.
For Mathis, she was anticipating a state appearance where she was hoping to improve her placing in the discus.
“When I heard about my track season being canceled, I was super said and I even cried,” Mathis said. “I wanted to make it to the state track meet and see how highly I could place in discus. I wanted to place at least third.”
Peek just barely missed qualifying for state last year in the 800 meter run, and this year he believed he would be able to secure that spot at state.
“Last year I was just short of qualifying for state in my open 800 meter. After my successful indoor season, I was looking forward to trying to qualify,” Peek said.
He added that the relay teams he was on were showing great potential to qualify for state.
“I was looking forward to seeing how far we could take them,” he said.
McConnell was looking forward to being able to improve both her distances for shot put and discus.
“When the season got canceled, I couldn’t help but be upset. It was my last season of track, my last time to compete, my last time to be with my friends,” McConnell said. “I had a goal of reaching 32 feet in shot put and 75 feet in the discus.”
McConnell reached 30 feet in shot put during the indoor season and she believed she would be able to add those extra two feet in the outdoor season.
Not the Same Without the Team
Mathis, Peek and McConnell all kept up with the Google Classroom workouts, but they each noted it wasn’t the same as being at practice with their coaches and teammates.
“I love my teammates and we are all tight-knit,” Mathis said. “Doing our practices online are very different because most people practice as a team, but through Google Classroom we are all separated,” Mathis said.
Peek said it can be difficult to find the inner drive to run every day without his coaches and teammates motivating him in person.
“Practice makes getting up every day and running easy. You have coaches and teammates pushing you and motivating you to be your best,” he said. “On your own, you have to find something to motivate you or you won’t get up and run every day.”
Mathis and McConnell added that with technical events, such as the throws, they aren’t getting the correction and help with technique that is necessary to improve.
“Practicing on my own has actually been very hard because I don’t get corrections,” McConnell said. Shot put and discus are very technical so it’s hard to do those on my own.”
Mathis also noted that they can’t actually throw a discus to practice, as they don’t have the space to do so at home.
“As a thrower, it is especially hard to practice because no one has a discus ring in their backyard,” Mathis said.
Luckily, Mathis, Peek and McConnell already had their next steps planned out so COVID-19 did not affect them in that way.
Mathis will be attending the University of Wyoming in the fall where she will study engineering. Peek will be enlisting in the United States Marine Corps. McConnell will attend Western Wyoming Community College and will study psychology.