Sports Zone, Springfield

Fun on the field: ‘RunJumpThrow’ event draws young athletes to track, fun

SPRINGFIELD –  Kids aged 6 to 12 cheered for their teammates in youthful glee as they watched them dart down the field with the baton, others giggled as they experienced the exhilarating recoil of their first jump across the turf, and the last watched their fake shot-put balls soar as they touched the sky. 

These are just some of the sights and sounds that echoed current sensations in Hayward Field, but instead, they vibrated the Bob Keefer Center last Thursday. 

“The goal coming into this is to get kids involved in track and field and get them out having fun with people who know a lot about the subject,” said Willamalane’s recreation program manager David Kieffer. “But really, for all of our events, the main goal is always to have fun.” 

Willamalane partnered with USA Track & Field and Hershey to bring RunJumpThrow to Springfield. RunJumpThrow is a physical, interactive learning event that teaches kids the basics of running, throwing, and jumping within track and field. The free event fosters a foundation for teamwork, friendly competition, and confidence from experienced alumni Olympians.

There were several featured Olympians, including two U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Committee members: Pam Spencer Marques, Edwin Roberts, Mary Wineberg, Gary Morgan, Marlene Wilcox, Logan Cunningham, Diane Dixson, Anissa Campbell, Joetta Clark Diggs, Sharrieffa Barksdale, Christine Taylor, and Morgan Palmer. 

Kieffer and Madison Grant, the recreation coordinator for early childhood youth programs, collaborated on the event. Most of the kids in this event were part of Willamalane summer camps.

 “Everyone we’ve worked with in USA Track & Field is very youth development-oriented already,” Kieffer said. “So it works out really, really well to have the kids out here and just get them an opportunity to interact and meet some of the people who have done this professionally.”

KALLIE HANSEL-TENNES / CHRONICLE PHOTO
Mary Wineberg, 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the 4×400 meter relay, cheers on a student.

Gary Morgan, a 1980 20k race walk Olympian, described his experience with kids.

“It’s always great working with kids,” Morgan said. “I do a lot of kids’ programs. We do the USA Track & Field RunJumpThrow, but I also do the Olympic day program. And then, of course, I coach kids within our brand, the Youth Track Club, so I never kind of lose touch with it.” 

Springfield’s connection to TrackTown USA provided this unique opportunity as Willamalane has plenty of field space available in the Bob Keefer Center. In addition, the inspiration is partly generated from the general “track environment all around and all the different folks who come in here regularly in the area.”

“With so much happening across the highway at Hayward and everything else, it definitely helps it roll over onto areas like Springfield,” Kieffer said. “It helps to bring that atmosphere and everything that’s going on in the track world over to us as well.”

Kenny Weigandt, Willamalane’s community engagement director, explained that USA Track & Field also emphasizes community engagement during peak times of track and field events. For example, the previous RunJumpThrow took place in 2022 for the World Athletics Championships Oregon22. 

In general, Willamalane also partners closely with the City of Springfield. For this past weekend, they also partnered with the U.S. Olympic Trials for the race walk downtown. 

“We are definitely trying really hard, not just with our programs, but also with some of our perfect amenities, to make Willamalane and Springfield more exciting. We want to be a part of Tracktown.  Eugene is known as Tracktown; Springfield would like to be a bigger part of it,” Weigandt said. 

According to Kieffer, RunJumpThrow helps contribute to Willamalane’s mission to not only enrich the lives of everyone they serve but also expose kids to a new way to look at sports, especially track and field.

KALLIE HANSEL-TENNES / CHRONICLE PHOTO
Two competitors dart across the turf in the “relay station” of the RunJumpThrow competition this past weekend.

The event also helps open the door for some kids who are unable to get that experience or opportunity. The event’s lack of fees is inclusive and helps bridge that gap for Springfield kids who may feel more disconnected from Tracktown due to socioeconomic reasons.

Nathan Pacheco, Springfield resident and father, watched his 11-year-old children Ira Pacheco and Brooklyn Johnson from the sidelines. 

“I think it’s a natural thing that will happen – like, Springfield will just be included in that,” Pacheco said. “Especially because the amount of people who come in can’t just stay in Eugene. With the track events coming, you can definitely feel the community getting busier. A lot more people in town are involved – including Springfield. We’re in the gateway area and the hotels and the Airbnbs are full all summer. Also, restaurants are constantly busy, and costs go insane.” 

One thing is certain about this event: The kids had a blast. 

Mary Wineberg described the picture of ecstasy and inspiration on the kids’ faces as they concluded the event. She also mentioned the hopes she has for them in the future. 

“We come out, and we give back,” said the 2008 Olympic gold medalist in the 4×400 meter relay. “We allow these young students to realize and see the potential that they can have. And it’s also teaching them about track and field. I just love seeing the smiles on their faces and then at the end, as you saw, they’re excited. They’re like, pumped and ready to go for the next event, whatever that might be in their lives.” 

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