GOTHENBURG – For junior high track athletes the season used to end with a fizzle, an “atta boy” and “have a good summer,” now it can end with a gold medal, a state championship and a new rivalry for their high school career. The Nebraska Championship Meet has become a way for the track season to end on a high note and lead to future success. The Ninth Annual Nebraska Championship Meet takes place in Gothenburg this Saturday, May 12th.
In the past eight years over 4,200 athletes have participated in the event and over 18,000 people have watched them do it. Also, some of the most well known coaches and officials in the country have been drawn to this unique event. Jim Clark is the organizer of the event as well as being the meet director since its inception. Clark talks about how the event came about.
“The junior high kids really had nothing to shoot for,” Clark said, “besides the coach telling them to work harder. We thought it would be cool for them to be able to have an event at the end of the year to take on other talented kids from outside of their area.”
Clark said he also noticed that track was losing its popularity.
The Nebraska Championship Meet (NCM) looks, sounds and feels like the high school championships that are held in Omaha later this month. The athletes and the schools have responded.
What began as a relatively small event has become a meet that is embraced by nearly every school district in the state. Even if the school doesn’t participate, an athlete can still get in as long as his/her numbers are good enough. Speaking of numbers, they just keep getting better. Records fall every year. From throws that would qualify for the high school state meet, to numbers like those of Ainsworth’s Riley Rice that drew attention from college coaches. Not just any college either, officials from the University of Oregon, arguably the “Mecca” of collegiate track. Every year the athletes seem to get better.
“You hear names in Omaha that we heard all the time in Gothenburg,” Clark said. “I was working at an Olympic Tryout and talked to an athlete there that had been at the NCM.”
It all takes place in a small central Nebraska town. Some have called it “Track Town Nebraska” because of the success that Swede athletes have had over the years. One thing seems to be certain, the road to Burke Stadium in Omaha (home of the high school championships) goes first through Gothenburg.
Fields events start at 11:00am, track events are scheduled to start at 12:30pm this Saturday, May 12th.