Linden — During the spring, Ben Cox spent his time coaching up the Linden varsity track and field athletes, helping the girls to a regional championship  and a co-Flint Metro League Stripes Division title.

  The girls 400-meter relay team ended up defending its event state championship as well at the D2 state meet. His boys team also finished a respectable third in the Stripes Division, and also earned its share of All-State efforts at the state meet.

 However, for three days last week, Cox changed his coaching hat from the varsity to the up-and-coming athletes he may see in a few season.

 The Linden Community Education program sponsored the third-annual Linden Track and Field Camp. During it, athletes — about 25 of them — were able to participate in track events, learning the fundamentals of track and field at an age that most of them otherwise wouldn’t get that chance. The camp, ran for two hours each day from June 20 to June 22, was open to grade school students from the first- to the eighth-grade, but the overwhelming majority of the athletes were elementary school children.

 “There isn’t much opportunity for young kids to actually compete or participate in track stuff, unless they are in the AAU circuits,” Cox said. “So, I just wanted to give the young people in the community an opportunity to learn and experience track before they get to middle school.”

 A lot of the experience involved the events that students otherwise can’t do on their own. For example, most people don’t have access to try field events like the high jump, the shot put or discus. While running is possible in many cases, a track with hurdles to attempt the hurdle events isn’t something most have in their backyard. They also were given chances to attempt relays with other campers. These things were done with modifications, helping the younger athletes to learn the technique with equipment that made sense for their age. For example, a softball was used while teaching the shot put. The high jump bar was replaced with a rope as students attempted to clear a given height. Easily adjusted hurdles that could be lowered than the traditional hurdle at track meets also were used.

 “That’s our focus of the camp. We want to give kids a chance to try all the field events and the special events, so they can learn a skill and try something they otherwise may not have the opportunity to do,” Cox said. “The distance running, we have the Wednesday Night Races at the Park (a four-night event hosted at Linden County Park throughout the summer) and other things like that, but we want to try to give them the opportunity to try these other events as well.”

 During the final day of the camp, the kids were separated into their own similar-aged group and moved from event-to-event pretty quickly, giving the young athletes many chances to learn certain skills. Each kid was given many chances at learning the high jump, while others practiced their long jumping skills, for example. About 15 minutes later, they were off to another event. The final day ended with a  400-meter race where everyone was basically a winner because each team was rewarded popsicles for a hard day’s work.

 “It’s just  fun to watch the because they get so excited about the simple little things,” Cox said. “But it just goes to show you that kids love track. We just have to give them the opportunity to participate.

 “They have all improved a ton from the beginning of the camp until the end. They are getting the form down and actually learning how to do some skills. That’s the whole idea, because it’s likely they wouldn’t have learned those skills until they joined the middle school team.”

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