State track, bad weather, good sports and Naranche

State track, bad weather, good sports and Naranche

With Montana’s State Track meets slated for this coming weekend, we should simply expect some rain. The fact that it’s also Memorial Day weekend really only cements the gloomy forecast.

It’s just how things work.

Some of the rainiest weekends I’ve ever spent have been under an umbrella as I roamed the infield at State Track meets. It’s that time of year, I guess.

Some folks aren’t fans of track meets, rain or shine. Mostly, I think, it’s those people who are there to watch their kid participate in two events — one at the beginning of the meet and one at the end. For them, the minute here and there when they watch Junior participate doesn’t outweigh the hours spent waiting in between events.

They don’t understand there’s a lot going on at every meet, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the Olympics or of it’s the citywide grade school track meet. There’s always something to watch, and if you have a little background knowledge, it’s usually pretty fun.

Take the recently completed Butte grade school track meet for example. There were some fantastic performances turned in as Hillcrest ran to the latest in a long string of city championships. It’s great to watch the best young athletes in Butte compete against each other, but it’s some of the other stories that sometimes really make the meet special.

Young Nevaeh Berge is a fourth grader at Whittier whose condition leaves her confined to either a wheel chair or a walker. Berge went out for the Wildcat track team and participated in the 100-meter dash. The 100 is the shortest race in the meet, but when you’re battling not just your competitors, but a physically debilitating disease, the sprint can turn into a marathon.

Nevaeh — which is “Heaven” spelled backward — gave the race her best effort in her wheeled walker, and likely would have finished on her own in front of a standing and cheering crowd. But as she slowed in the final 20 meters or so, teammates from Whittier stormed the track and helped push her across the finish in a race that won’t be forgotten — not by Nevaeh, not by her teammates and not by the spectators.

“Individual sports really make great athletes for team sports,” Butte High head football coach Arie Grey said. “It makes them tougher. It makes them more competitive, and it makes them mentally stronger.”

Grey compared track with wrestling, another tough individual sport.

“There’s a camaraderie because athletes in both sports know what their competitors are going through,” he said. “They’re putting themselves out there in front of everyone, every time.”

Many times, however, the best parts of the competition go unnoticed by the crowd.

Recently, Butte High sophomore shot putter Lauren Sullivan got a chance to take advantage of a situation that would have sent her to the State meet in her event. Competing in Bozeman, the young workers in the meet mismarked one of her efforts in the shot ring, adding four or five extra feet to her best mark. Sullivan told Butte High throwing coach Terry Faulkner about the mark, and promptly told him it was a mistake.

“I made sure she understood that the mark would automatically qualify her for State,” Faulkner explained. “But she told me that’s not how she wants to make it. That says a lot about the young lady.”

Butte Central has a chance to see a great accomplishment at the State Class A meet this weekend in Bozeman, as the Maroon girls’ sprint relay team has a legitimate shot at winning the 4×100 event. That in itself isn’t as cool as the fact that all four runners share the same last name — McGree.

Rachael, Lindsay, Lacey and Whitney — sisters and cousins in the talented McGree clan — have a real chance of having a small family reunion atop the awards podium Friday.

Yet another great thing about track is the way it breaks down barriers. Butte High and Butte Central have had plenty of rivalry over the years, but it’s nothing to see Butte Central’s jumping coaches helping Butte High kids with their events. Legendary Butte High track coach Charlie Merrifield has been helping Butte Central phenom Rachael McGree in the 100 hurdles, where the junior could well top the rest of the state this weekend in Bozeman.

“You see that kind of thing in track,” Butte Central head coach Zack Stajcar said. “We get away from the crosstown rivalry and people are just willing to help out. School or age or any of that doesn’t matter. In track it’s all about the kids, the way it should be.”

And it’s fun to watch. Rainy, but fun.

The weather isn’t making work on Butte High’s Naranche Stadium any easier, but after this summer, weather won’t matter much.

Workers are removing sod and dirt in preparation for the drainage and groundwork for the new artificial turf, which should be ready for Butte High’s Purple and White scrimmage, slated for Aug. 19.

Not only should the new surface be worlds better than the former natural turf, it should be level. Word is that the difference in elevation at the west end of Naranche was about seven feet higher than the east end. Butte High head football coach Arie Grey told Jake Dennehy on Wednesday that had his state title-field goal been kicked to the east instead of the west, there wouldn’t have been quite as much drama.

There was plenty of drama to be had, east, west, north or south.

Butte High’s football team will hold some practices on the south grass field, but not many. With the addition of turf at Naranche, the Bulldogs will play nine of 10 regular season football games on the artificial surface. Five games are at home, three are in Billings at Daylis Stadium, and one will be played against Missoula Sentinel on County Stadium’s soon-to-be-installed surface, which will see work start at the conclusion of the Class AA and C track meets this weekend.

The Bulldogs’ only regular season game on natural grass this fall will be at Kalispell Glacier’s Legends Stadium.

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