PASO ROBLES - Since its inception in 1988, the Paso Robles Cheetahs youth track and field program has inspired local athletes to get a jump on their training with an introduction to the world of track and field.

There every step of the way has been Henry Jenkins, who has coached the Cheetahs for 27 years in Paso Robles.

“We started off back in 1988,” Jenkins said. “We had about maybe eight to nine kids who went up to San Jose for what’s called the ‘Northern California Hershey’s Track and Field state final.’”

The Hershey Company has hosted the annual meet for 37 years, providing aspiring track and field athletes around the country the chance to compete at a young age.

“If you qualify in your region, you win an all-expenses-paid trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania for the North American final,” Jenkins explained.

The trip to Hershey is a tasty reward, especially for the Cheetahs, who range in age from 9 to 14 years and thus have an age-appropriate affinity for anything and everything chocolate.

However, as this year’s batch of youngsters prepare for their annual meet in San Jose, it may be the last time the Cheetahs run their way to the South Bay.

According to Jenkins, the Hershey’s Track and Field Games, which have seen the Cheetahs participate for a quarter century, will no longer be held after this season’s meet.