East Aurora Advertiser

Former Track and Field Star Offers Indoor Team $1,000 in Funding Challenge

As a relatively new interscholastic winter sport, boys and girls indoor track and field is currently not funded by either East Aurora or Holland school districts. The athletes, parents and a booster club are responsible for the $5,000 the team must pay Holland Central each year to be part of the joint program, which involves about 50 athletes.  

“That’s a lot of chicken barbecues to run and candy bars we have to sell,” said co-head coach Walt McLaughlin. “It takes away from the time and energy we’d rather be spending on our kids, helping them become better athletes.”

The Holland-East Aurora Track team, or HEAT as they are known, announced the formation of a GoFundMe page last month to help raise the necessary money to continue the program. 

That’s where a former Blue Devil track star from the mid-1960s comes into the equation. When he heard about the GoFundMe, he made a generous donation and then went further by issuing a challenge. 

While wishing to remain anonymous to the community, he reached out to this newspaper and said, “Those kids do such a great job. If the community rallies to raise $4,000 to support the track and field team, I will top it off with the final $1,000, so they can meet their $5,000 commitment.”

McLaughlin, as you can imagine, was thrilled to get the news of the donor’s generosity. For 20 years, he has been lobbying for a winter program, arguing that the winter season didn’t offer enough opportunities for athletes, especially girls. 

“Girls are limited to basketball and cheerleading in the winter,” he said, “and both those programs limit the number of participants.” 

Five years ago, the proposal to join forces with Holland gained some traction with the caveat that a booster club would pay the $5,000. The beauty of indoor track and field, according to McLaughlin, lies in its inclusivity. 

“We welcome everyone. We really have no limits on the number of participants. And it’s not just the distance events like cross country like some people assume because of our success in cross country,” stressed McLaughlin. “We have sprints, jumps and throws as well. Some of our athletes will go on to spring track and field, but others are involved to improve their fitness. They might go to baseball, softball or lacrosse in the spring.” 

He says that coming to indoor track and field with no strings attached encourages new athletes and younger athletes to give it a try. High school students are all eligible; middle schoolers in seventh and eighth grade who can pass the state’s APP ability test can also compete.

The teams split their workouts between the East Aurora gym and outdoor track (when weather permits) where McLaughlin and his wife Marty coach the distance runners, and the Holland facility where head coach Joe Evans and assistant Rebecca Justinger work with sprinters, jumpers and throwers. Once a week, they gather at Holland for a united team practice. 

Winter track and field features many of the same events as the outdoor sport, but in slightly different formats. Boys and girls compete in dashes of 55, 300 and 600 meters and a 55-meter hurdles race. Boys have distance runs of 1,000, 1,600 and 3,200 meters, while the girls’ distances are 1,000, 1,500 and 3,000 with a 1500-meter race walk as well. Both run three relays: the four-by-200, four-by-400 and four-by-800 meters. The field events are the high jump, long jump, triple jump, pole vault, shot put and weight toss.

The HEAT participates in 13 multi-school meets from December to the end of February, competing against some of the 40 schools with indoor track and field in the section. The meets can take place at Buffalo State College, but most are at Houghton College. 

“It’s a great setup with a 200-meter indoor track plus all the equipment necessary for the jumps and throws.” 

The Holland-East Aurora indoor track team competes at Houghton College.

The regular season is followed by sectionals and then state championship levels, just as in outdoor track and field.

So far the HEAT have been holding their own in both the boys’ and girls’ divisions. After three meets, the quartet of Pierce Ticen, Evan Owens, Braden Tent and Brody Jones rank first in the 4×800-meter relay. Jones and Owens are one-two in the 1600, Tent and Ticen are two-three in the 600 and Jones holds second place in the 3200. The 4×400 relay team of Jones, Owens, Tent and Nolan Axford is second in their group. 

Emilia O’Leary is first in the 1,500 meter and the 3,000 after three meets. The 4x-400 relay team of Lily Wangelin, Ava Improta, Hope Owens and Samantha Hulme holds the best time so far in their discipline; likewise the 4×200 team Paige Hoffman, Julia Galley, Jillian Mumm and Grace Kwitek. The 4×800 team of Megan McLaughlin, O’Leary, Kailyn Houghton and Hulme remains second. McLaughlin is second in the 600 and Acadia Peirick is runner-up in the race walk. Kate Hillyard stands third in the high jump and second in the pole vault.

Kate Hilyard takes third for Holland-East Aurora in the high jump.

Keep up with the HEAT at www.athletic.net/TrackAndField.

Those interested in participating in the GoFundMe community challenge can find the group’s page at  www.gofundme.com/f/heat-indoor-track-and-field-fundraiser.

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