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VALE – The COVID issue canceled the season. Three different coaches over a span of three years. Dwindling numbers on the team. For whatever reason, the Vale track and field team has struggled to the point where Viking fans have not been provided the chance to see the home team run at Hawley Stadium since April 6, 2019 at the Oregon Trail Invitational.
On Friday, April 22, fans will once again be able to sit in the stands and watch the hometown Viks as the Wayne Invitational welcomes 19 teams from both Idaho and Oregon. Scattered among those in events will be a Viking team comprised of 30 student athletes. Sitting down and speaking with some members of the team shows a wide variety of experience and reasons 2022 is the year to be on the Vale track team. A few are long-time veterans of track, anxious to return to competition after seeing seasons past disappear. Others are upperclassmen, returning to track after a four- or five-year absence. Still many others are freshmen or sophomores, just starting their track careers and looking towards the future. For whatever reason, the Vale track and field team is back with a new coach, good team numbers and a new attitude.
Senior Riley Johnson has seen it all. Now in her fourth year on the Viking track team, the hurdler, high jumper and member of the relay team has stayed with the sport, even in years where there was no sport. Now competing for the final year, Johnson is excited a full season will close out her high school career.
“This is the season I always wanted,” said Johnson. “We have a full team, we get along great and we are competing. Track is unlike any other sport. Although we are competitors, you will find us cheering on other teams when they do great. I really missed that part the last few years.”
One of the other seniors on the team cannot echo part of that same sentiment. Tanner Steele’s last time on a track team was seventh grade. After a very successful football and basketball season, topped off with an acceptance of a scholarship to College of Idaho, Steele reentered the track domain.
“What I am doing here will make me bigger, faster and stronger for my future,” Steele explained. “Joining track is probably the best decision I made as I have learned things that will help me in a number of areas.”
Like Johnson, junior Charlie Lamb weathered the tough years to get to this year. Currently holding the sixth quickest time in the Oregon 3A ranks in the 400 meters, Lamb remembers last year and the disappointment felt when Vale opted out of attending a state meet.
“Last year was tough on a bunch of us,” he said. “We barely had anyone on the team and then we found out we would not be allowed to attend state. This year is completely different. The coaches care, the team spirit is back and we know there is a goal. Being on the team this year means so much.”
Sophomore Trevor Stewart is quickly making a name for himself around the state as a distance specialist. According to Stewart, one reason is the effort and coaching he has received this season.
“There was no distance workout last year,” said Stewart. “This is the first year I am actually being coached towards the races I run. The coaching staff are training individuals towards specific events and that is completely new for us.”
This style of coaching takes place off the track also Johnson chimed in.
“Up to this year, I had never been in a weight room for track season,” she added. “The workouts we are doing are real and tailored for our events and us as individuals.”
Even with these upper classmen and veterans, the future of any team is youth. Currently, 22 Vale tracksters are freshmen or sophomores. This is the group hit most directly by the COVID shutdown with this group not stepping on a track for the last two years.
Madi Steele and Bella Johnson both hit the track for the first time this year. Steele, a sophomore, and Johnson, a freshman, are excited to continue track for years to come.
”This is my first time on an organized track team and it has been a great experience,” said Steele. “You can really see the coaches care about us and take the time to help us.”
“I have learned so much about this sport and this team just in this short time,” added Johnson. “There is so many little things the coaches have shown me. I never really understood there was so much to track in just small things.”
Both are currently participating in the sprint and hurdle events with the potential for both, unlimited.
“Vale track is heading in the right direction,” said first year head coach Paul Bentz. “We are still catching up with the COVID issue and the lost time competing and training. We have the right athletes on the team and a great group of assistant coaches with the knowledge and ability to help the team. After all this time, competing at a home event like the Wayne Invitational after years of not having a home meet is important to these kids.”
Although the competition starts at 2 p.m., fans are urged to arrive at 1:45 p.m. as a ceremony honoring Don Wayne and his family will occur.
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