Almost a year ago, I covered the Idaho youth track state meet in Rexburg and learned more about eastern Idaho’s newest youth track club, Life Active created in Rexburg by former Ricks College coach Doug Stutz. Now known by the name of Rexburg Track Club, it is one of two youth track programs in the Post Register’s coverage area this summer. The newest is High Five Flyers, started by Idaho Falls High School head track coach Jeremy Smith for athletes in the Idaho Falls area. Thursday’s meet at Ravsten Stadium–the first meet of the six-week season–drew 162 athletes from three clubs. Both Stutz and Smith have long-term goals for their programs and what they can do for eastern Idaho.
Pocatello Track Club’s Jade Huerta, center, tries to catch Rexburg Track Club’s Nicole Hipps, right, during the girls 10 and under 100 meter dash at the youth track club tri-meet on Thursday at Ravsten Stadium. Hipps finished first in her heat with Huerta taking second place. Pat Sutphin / email@example.com
Picking up speed: Local youth track coaches hopeful programs will continue growth
By MARLOWE HEREFORD
High Five Flyers is a fitting name for eastern Idaho’s newest youth track club, as there were plenty of high fives to go around Thursday.
Enthusiasm was rampant at Ravsten Stadium as the Idaho Falls-based High Five Flyers began the summer season with a tri-meet with the Rexburg Track Club and the Pocatello Track Club. All sporting brightly colored jerseys, 162 athletes ages 5 to 14 had much to smile about regardless of finishes, times or marks.
Such was true for Flyers athlete Isabelle McJunkin, an incoming Taylorview Middle School eighth-grader who competed in the 100 meter hurdles, 800 and high jump. When she wasn’t competing, she was all over Ravsten cheering on her teammates.
“It’s so much fun,” McJunkin said. “The energy is so positive.”
Reactions like McJunkin’s are a big reason why Jeremy Smith started High Five Flyers. Idaho Falls High School’s head track coach, Smith was approached by Rexburg Track Club director Doug Stutz over the winter about starting a similar youth program in Idaho Falls. Smith said he was initially unsure if he could devote the necessary commitment to the six-week summer youth season immediately after high school track ended. The more he considered it, however, the more he realized the possibilities. He had completed a similar endeavor at age 15 in his home state of Maine, starting a Junior Olympics track team that he worked with for three years.
He went all in on High Five Flyers, spreading the word at schools around town.
“It is an opportunity to do more of what I love to do, which is coaching,” Smith said. “Being a track coach is being organized and excited. It’s something that I’m definitely looking long term and I hope to see it grow in a few years.”
This is the second year of Stutz’s program, which began last summer under the name Life Active and drew 71 members. Stutz said his program’s numbers are ahead of early last June, and he still hopes more local youth track clubs will form.
“I’m glad that Jeremy is taking up the torch,” Stutz said. “For us to have a competitive season so they can see other people, we need more local teams. In the future, that’s what I hope would happen.”
High Five Flyers sprint coach Bryce Frazee gives a good luck fist bump to Carson Chastain, 11, before he runs the 400 meter dash during the youth track club tri-meet on Thursday at Ravsten Stadium. Frazee is a 2015 Idaho Falls High School graduate and current sprinter at the Colorado School of Mines. Pat Sutphin / firstname.lastname@example.org
Providing a summer outlet for track similar to travel programs for basketball, softball, baseball, soccer and volleyball was also a motivation for Stutz, as was coaching future high school athletes. Above all, however, is the goal he and Smith share of introducing kids to track.
“A lot of these kids that come out may not have had success in other things,” Stutz said. “Track is one of those sports where if you’re improving yourself, you’re having success. Most of the kids that we have right now really aren’t thinking forward that much to being a superstar. They just want to get out and have fun and learn something.”
Track has become the sport of choice for Christopher Zuck, an incoming Hillcrest freshman who edged Rexburg’s Michael Brugger to win the boys 13-14 800. He started track as a seventh-grader after a good experience with cross-country the previous fall.
“Before running, I did swimming and ballet,” Zuck said. “I didn’t like those very much. I finally settled down on cross-country from the first practice.”
A member of Life Active last summer, Zuck said being on High Five Flyers is as enjoyable this summer.
“It’s been so much fun to do the extra meets, hang out with friends and try new stuff,” Zuck said.
Brugger, the boys 13-14 400 winner, is in his second summer with Stutz’s program. Making new friends is not the only perk the incoming Madison freshman has gained from the club season.
“It’s nice because it helps keep you in shape,” Brugger said. “I do cross-country, too.”
Several current and former local high school track athletes shared in the enthusiasm by serving as coaches. One of them is High Five Flyers sprint coach Bryce Frazee, a 2015 Idaho Falls graduate and 2015 5A boys 400 state champion who now competes for Colorado School of Mines.
“This is a good opportunity for kids to come out and try it and get attached to it like I did,” Frazee said.
Although in his first year with High Five Flyers, Smith said he has big goals at the youth level. Ideally, meets like Thursday would be the norm.
“I would like to see it be a big summer track club with a lot of kids and a lot of certified coaches,” he said. “I would like to see cross-country grow the same way with a youth feeder program. Let’s make eastern Idaho the track mecca.”