UNIVERSITY PARK - As the largest youth sport program of its kind in North America, Hershey’s Track and Field Games has been encouraging children from all 50 states, Puerto Rico and Canada to taste sweet victory through hard work and determination for more than 30 years.
More than 200 children aged 9 through 14 came from around Pennsylvania to compete in the state meet held on July 7 at the Penn State track and field facility. Events included the 50-, 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes, 800- and 1600- meter runs, 4x100 relay, standing long jump and softball throw.
To be eligible for state competition, children first qualified for districts in their perspective events by competing in local meets that are run across Pennsylvania. State Chair for the Hershey's Track and Field program Jeff Hall said the state is split into three districts with District 1 in the western part of the state, District 2 in the center of the state and District 3 in the eastern part of the state.
“The top two places from the district meet qualify to come to the state meet,” he said.
One such qualifier is State College native Natasha Fendkina.
As a two-time North American champion in the 800-meter run, running is natural for Fendkina, 14.
“I’ve been running in these local meets since I was five or six. When I was like seven, I started traveling everywhere. It was a new experience for me and I liked it,” she said. “I kept on getting better times. I thought, ‘this is actually pretty fun. I want to keep on doing it.’”
Like many other competitors, Fendkina, who trains with Nittany Track and Field, became involved with the Hershey's Track & Field Games at just 9 years old.
“When I was nine and ten, I did the 400-meter for this meet and I made it to the North American final when I was 10 and I won there for the 400,” she said.
Now in her last year of competition with the games, Fedkina feels as though the year is bittersweet.
“It goes by fast and it’s just a good family here. It’s my last year, so if I don’t do good, I’ll regret it forever because I can’t do it again,” she said. “So, I’ve kind of put pressure on myself. It’s like you have to do good because it’s your last year and everything.”
Fedkina has nothing to regret as she placed first in both the 800-meter and 1,600-meter runs.
Hall said within the next two weeks Fedkina and all other athletes involved with the games will know if they qualified for the 2012 North American Finals.
“To get to the North American Final, all these times and distances are compared to other states and provinces in our region,” he said.
Pennsylvania is located in region seven, which also includes New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Washington D.C., Maryland and Quebec.
While Fedkina waits patiently to hear if she has qualified for her last possible North American Final, she believes that simply being involved with Hershey track programs held in State College is truly what matters. She encourages others to become involved.
“You get taught a lot of teamwork and sportsmanship. Everyone gets together. It’s like a family, doing this meet,” she said.