On a track lined with donated hurdles and virtually integrated with the town cemetery, a handful of Green Ridge high school students jogged laps, jumped rope and launched themselves into modest sand-pit landings.
They are the first Green Ridge varsity track and field team in school history. They have a good sense of humor about their gravely environment, and look forward to forging another kind of permanent legacy.
“Setting records,” Green Ridge student Corbin Meyer said.
Head coach Paul Fletcher said the position “fell in his lap,” but was surprised at the skill of the junior high team.
“I was amazed at the talent level,” Fletcher said. “I thought, ‘We’ve got something here, and I want to build on it.’”
Fletcher, who teaches social studies and drives a bus route, previously coached at Immaculate Conception School in Springfield, Missouri and varsity girl’s track and field at Braymer High School.
The Green Ridge school board approved the addition of a varsity track and field program in May of last year, and 26 students attended a meeting hosted for interested parties. There are currently 16 student-athletes on the roster, including six Lady Tiger softball players.
Mackenley Scotten pitches and plays first base for Green Ridge softball. After practicing on the diamond, she joins the track and field team already in progress. She will compete in the 400m race.
“It’s exciting,” Scotten said. “It makes me feel good that we set the goals for future teams to beat.”
Green Ridge has had a junior high track and field team for years, and began competing in multiple meets two years ago.
Meyer said despite Green Ridge’s size, they want to lay the groundwork for a brighter future.
“The next freshmen coming up, that’s probably the most athletic group in Green Ridge,” Meyer said. “(Green Ridge) is pretty small – we’re running in a graveyard – but hopefully we set the standard, get some good times and compete.”
Fletcher is not alone for Green Ridge track’s inaugural season. Assistant coach by afternoon and school counselor by day, Erica Goans has been a “great asset” on the coaching staff.
Goans competed in high school track and field in California, Missouri for four years. She said she enjoys working with students in another context.
“It’s just been fun getting to see the students outside of school, in a different light,” Goans said. “I enjoyed (track) so much, and I like to see the students enjoying it as much as I do.”
The hurdles on the track at the Green Ridge Recreation Complex were donated by Smith-Cotton High School. The sand in the long-jump landing area was recently installed, and requires raking after each jump. The high jump bar needs repair. Fletcher jokes that it is the “field of dreams” of track.
But Green Ridge track represents organized sport at its most basic level. Its inception can be traced back to students like Luis Gonzalez, who will compete in the long jump, 100m and 200m, approaching Fletcher after witnessing his sister’s junior high track meet at Smith-Cotton High School.
“We wanted to try it,” Gonzalez said. “I know last year I told Fletcher ‘We should get track, I’m sure a lot of people would come out for it.’ I went to my sister’s track meet, and, I mean, it looked fun there.”
Green Ridge competes in their first meet March 24 at Sherwood.
Alex Agueros can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @abagueros2