Junior Olympics

The boys 11-12 year old race starts at Buffalo Park on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Philip Service)

At the Team Run Flagstaff year-end party last Sunday, president Mike Smith and secretary Erin Strout thanked coaches Gary and Kari Plank for their work with Kids Run Flagstaff and for their athletes’ performances at the National Junior Olympics Cross Country Meet the day before in Florida.

It was a classy gesture -- the Planks have poured themselves into KRF since that division began four years ago. But it also felt strange. This fall, TRF leadership decided to part ways with the coaches, so the national meet did not include KRF. The Planks formed a new team, ROAM -- Runners on a Mission, which included former KRF runners.

TRF executive director Stephen Haas said that the competitive ethos and the fundraising required for regional and national meets went against TRF’s long-term plans.

“Our mission remains the same,” Haas said. “We’ll continue to be inclusive for any type of runner. That’s not just KRF. That’s TRF. We want to offer something for everyone. It’s important to keep KRF and keep it growing.”

The Planks didn’t hear the TRF accolades. They were still in Florida with ROAM. Their high school girls finished third and high school boys took 12th in the team standings. Gary Plank, a competitive senior athlete himself, understood that fundraising for youth travel was considered a burden by TRF.

He has always been clear about his approach. His youth runners prepare for the post-school season Junior Olympics in the fall and, after base-building in the winter, a spring track season.

“I hope I make it a fun atmosphere,” he said. “But to me competition and training go hand in hand. That’s how I’ve always envisioned it. I understand there are kids, just like adults, who don’t want to race. That’s not me.”

After some initial confusion from parents shortly after the switch in early November, Haas said TRF tried to alleviate that by holding meetings to explain the decision. He expects the number of youth involved with KRF to expand in 2018. For now, Smith and TRF vice president Vince Sherry are handling workouts, a task both have plenty of experience doing with TRF’s well-attended Tuesday adult workouts. TRF is looking for a coach for the KRF division, Haas said, adding that KRF athletes won’t travel. Any competition they do will be existing local races.

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Both Haas and Plank are comfortable with their respective goals, and say that parents are on board with the direction of their respective organizations.

“Now there’s opportunities for whatever you’re looking for,” Haas said. “I feel like we’re closer to our vision of providing more opportunities for all people. We want to focus on kids enjoying the sport. We don’t want to steer them in competition if they don’t want to. If they want that, we can lead them to that.”

“I think there’s room in the community to have two sources,” Plank said. “ROAM is a club that competes. The other group is more about the fitness. I’ve encouraged parents who don’t want that competition to check out TRF. I’ve got no problem with that.”

Looking at the situation as a current TRF member, the cooperative and congenial aspect of this situation is the most important issue. Change happens when visions no longer align, and as long as animosity or jealousy is limited, this development just offers more choice. For a town as running-centric as Flagstaff is, I see no reason that it won’t accommodate KRF and ROAM.

Respected and capable people are at the helm of both, meaning parents and young athletes who want to run can do so -- whatever their motivation.

Myles Schrag is coordinating editor for High Country Running. He invites submissions on any aspect of the local running scene, as well as submissions for the “To Imogene: A Flagstaff Love Letter” book project. He can be reached at myles.schrag@adinapublishing.com.


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