They are there year after year. Rain and shine. They wear many different hats and work different jobs. They never ask for anything in return.
They do it for one reason: Seeing the smiles on a young athlete’s face as he or she crosses the finishing line or sets a new personal best.
They are the volunteers who organize and run the seven — that's right, seven — local elementary track meets and they are an admirable breed.
“I’ve been helping with track meets off and on since 1967 when I started teaching,” co-convenor and track referee John Roberts said. “When it began, I was filling in for people who couldn’t make it … (but) I enjoyed it and it became my passion.”
The track meets run each year from early May to late June and impact thousands of kids every year and has, and will continue, to launch a lot of great careers. Ask any coach or school official in the Sudbury District Secondary School Athletic Association (SDSSAA) and they all say the same thing: Without the work of the volunteers, the track meets would struggle.
The volunteer’s value is immeasurable.
“Our volunteers’ involvement continues to inspire me,“ SDSSAA Athletics Director Dave Makela said. “They have never once complained about conditions, student behaviour or asked for anything special for their involvement. To me, this is constitutes the ultimate act of community fellowship and volunteerism.
“Most people wouldn't think of extending themselves this way. There are a select few who choose to go way out of their way, even booking time off work, to offer their time and expertise, which truly allows students their best chance to shine.”
Each track and field meet has eight to 10 “regulars” who give their time to make things run as smooth as possible. Some of these people use vacation time to help out.
“The volunteers all go the extra mile and we all count on each other,” Roberts said. “It makes us feel good to help out the kids in our city. We see kids progress from junior meets to senior meets then onto high school meets. Kids get to know you by first name. We see how far these kids come along and do good things. It is quite rewarding.”
The volunteers have a genuine soft spot for one event in particular, the Rainbow Challenge Meet. It is a track and field championship for youth with physical and learning disabilities. It was started in 2003 by Roberts and long-time track guru Bill McKetsy.
It began with 108 students. In 2014, the numbers had swelled to 400.
“It has a positive impact on the kids,” co-convenor McKetsy said. “It has a positive impact on our lives. It gives the kids a chance to do sports and compete. When you watch them running and jumping and throwing, they are having a good time and smiling. It is wonderful to see.”
The volunteers consider no part of the events to be work. They need no one to tell them thank you. The good feelings that come from pitching in is the pay off. It fuels the desire to keep doing it.
“We get to give back to our community,” announcer Darlene McKetsy said. “I have found in the last two or three years, more and more kids are coming up to us and thanking us for doing what we do. The kids appreciate what we are doing. It makes it all worthwhile and feels great.”