Heading into the third and final EXCL race, Katy Roark’s best finish was second place.
On Saturday, the Immanuel Lutheran School third-grader gave it all she had at the finish line to edge Abby Mosley of Seymour-Redding Elementary School 9:48.57 to 9:48.86 in the girls second- and third-grade race to claim her first win.
She said her coach was really excited about her second-place finish the week before, so she kept the team’s motto, “Never look back,” in mind during Saturday’s meet.
Instead of boasting about her big win, she chose to be humble and promise to keep working until next season rolls around.
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“You get a ribbon, and I get to do it with my friends,” Katy said of what she likes about the elementary cross-country league that’s sponsored by the Seymour-based South Central Indiana Running Club.
Katy was among more than 500 students in kindergarten through fifth grade from local schools who ran in the second season of the league.
In all three meets, kindergartners and first-graders ran 1K on the grassy course at the Freeman Field Sports Complex in Seymour, while second- through fifth-graders ran 2K. Boys and girls ran in separate races, wearing T-shirts based on one of their school colors.
At the end of each race, ribbons were presented to the top 25 runners.
The number of league participants increased from the 300-plus children who ran in last year’s inaugural season.
Brownstown Elementary School was invited to participate this year, and that added nearly 100 boys and girls.
Shanty Morrow, one of the school’s volunteer coaches, said a table was set up during the an open house at the beginning of the school year to give students a chance to learn about the league and sign up.
Within the first two weeks of school, students still were registering and paying their $6 fee.
“We actually anticipated 100,” Morrow said of the turnout.
Practices began Aug. 16 and were held twice a week at the Brownstown Central High School track. Runners rotated between three stations, which were tailored to their ability.
“We don’t always run at practice,” Morrow said.
“We do fun stuff at practice so that they are enjoying practice. We spray them with the water hose. We just do fun things with them so they keep coming back.”
Once the meets started, the coaches were able to see students make improvements in their running.
“Our very first meet, we had no clue who was going to be our fastest runners,” Morrow said.
“Because we had so many (students),” said Tina McCormick, another volunteer coach.
Morrow said she was surprised by which students came out on top, while McCormick said she liked seeing the kids feel accomplished.
“They are so proud of themselves,” McCormick said.
“It’s so neat to see the little guys just so proud and proud to be athletic and in shape instead of sitting at home playing a game or an iPad. We love anything where you get kids outside doing things.”
Bryce Garland, a first-grader at Brownstown Elementary, won the boys kindergarten first-grade race in 4:08.
He said he plays baseball, but this was his first time participating in a running sport.
“I try to get up there in front,” he said. “I try to keep the same pace at all times.”
For some of the Brownstown students, it was their first time participating in a sport. Now having an elementary running program gives kids another sport option, Morrow said.
“Running is essential in any part of any of the sports we do, but we didn’t have any running programs, so when the kids get into middle school, that’s all new to them,” she said.
“This is good for those kids to have that option when they get older to run in school, and our teams will be bigger and have more athletes.”
The meet also included all five public elementary schools in Seymour — Margaret R. Brown, Cortland, Emerson, Seymour-Jackson and Seymour-Redding — along with two Seymour parochial schools — Immanuel Lutheran and St. Ambrose Catholic.
Gwen Newkirk, a volunteer coach at Cortland, said nearly 50 of the school’s 125 students participated in EXCL this year.
She, too, liked seeing the students make improvements each week.
“You’ll see just from the beginning of practices until now, a lot of the kids, they may not be getting first and second place, but they can run the whole thing. They don’t have to walk,” she said.
“It’s just an individual goal like that,” she said. “When they first start out, they are like, ‘Oh my gosh, my side hurts. I have to walk.’ Now, they are like, ‘I ran the whole thing. I didn’t have to walk one step.’ They get pretty excited about that.”
Newkirk said the league promotes a healthy lifestyle and gives kids an opportunity to compete at an early age.
“My daughter specifically, she likes it because it’s an individual sport,” she said.
“She’s just like, ‘You’re not letting a team down if you don’t have a good day or do well.’ It’s just for you, and it’s something you don’t have to have anything to run other than legs. I think she likes it just because it’s something everybody can do.”
Having kids develop an interest in running at the elementary level may encourage them to join the cross-country and track and field teams in middle school and high school, Newkirk said.
“It’s similar to what other sports have done with youth leagues — football and basketball,” she said.
“This is really just a neat thing to do for the running part.”
Several of the coaches said they expect the league’s numbers to keep increasing.
Brad Cobb, a board member with the South Central Indiana Running Club, said Crothersville already has expressed interest in joining EXCL next year.
“These kids absolutely love this program,” McCormick said. “It’s just going to continue to grow.”