At a time when cell phones and video games vie for kids’ time and attention, one local group is working to introduce children to the healthier and more rewarding alternative of track and field.
Before the Alan Connie Shamrock Invitational took over Doug Shaw Memorial Stadium for a major college meet last weekend, the Myrtle Beach Track & Field Club held its annual Kids Day competition. More than 60 local kids between the ages of 6 and 12 took advantage of the opportunity to test their skills at running, jumping and throwing under the instruction of college athletes.
“Some kids come out here and find themselves,” said Clarence Richardson, club executive director and U.S. Track & Field state president. “Some kids are introverted or not very athletic, but they find that there’s something they can do here, whether it’s running or the field events. This gives them a chance to participate in something they might have never tried otherwise, and to be a part of a team.”
Coastal Carolina University, which hosted the event named after its longtime track and field coach, had its track and field athletes serve as coaches and mentors to the youngsters at Kids Day. Boys and girls split into five stations - the 100 meters, hurdles, long jump, high jump and shot put (or shot softball) - allowing each child a chance to see which events they enjoyed most.
“I liked the running,” said 9-year-old Preston Iagulli, while elder sister Macie had her own favorite. “I liked the ... what do you call it when you get to jump on that big bouncy thing?”
“The high jump,” answered father and former Carolina Forest track and field coach J.J. Iagulli, who coached a pair of Kids Day veterans turned all-state high school performers in Kayla and Kyle Watkins. “The club does a great job with this event and making it fun for the kids. Having been involved with track and field as a both athlete and a coach, I know it’s a good sport for kids.”
Following Kids Day, more than 1,200 college athletes hit the track for three days of competition.
It was scene to behold for meet namesake Alan Connie, who is in his 40th year of coaching track and field on the Grand Strand.
After last year’s event was held at CCU while Shaw Stadium was undergoing renovations, this year’s return unveiled the upgrades to both runners and fans alike.
“When we started we didn’t have a track, just a path around the football field,” Connie recalled. “To see all these athletes in town to compete at a facility like this one is great. I remember (former Myrtle Beach Mayor) John Rhodes asking me if we had a first-class facility if they would come and I used the old ‘Field of Dreams’ line on him: ‘If you build it, they will come.’”
They certainly have been this spring. The CCU Invitational and Shamrock Invitational attracted more than 3,400 athletes, and a similar number is expected for the upcoming Beach Run Invitational.
Tim Huber, sports tourism director for the City of Myrtle Beach, estimated the three events would generate about $2 million in direct revenue.
Track and field isn’t just fun for the little ones; it’s also big business for the city. The South Carolina Junior Olympics will be held in Myrtle Beach in June, and qualifiers are eligible to move on to the regionals and the nationals.
The Myrtle Beach Track & Field Club has had more than 80 Junior Olympics state champions and 14 All-Americans in its eight years of existence, Richardson said.
“We’ve had a lot of kids go on and be successful in high school and college,” he said. “That’s what makes it all worth it.”