Area youth athletes excited to compete at the Hershey's Track and Field Games Saturday
HERSHEY, Pa. -- For most kids, taking a trip to Hershey, Pa., would be all about visiting Hershey Park or taking a tour of the Hershey chocolate factory.
But that is not the case for three area athletes who will be representing the state of Minnesota at the national level during the Hershey's Track and Field Games Saturday, including Windom's Gracie Bucher, Heron Lake's Eli Fest and Pipestone's Tyl Woelber. All three southwest Minnesota kids will be competing in the softball throw at their given age level.
"At first I was really happy about going," Bucher, 10, said. "But now I'm a little nervous because I'm going to be at a national competition with a lot of other kids, so I'm a little nervous about that."
Joining Bucher, Fest and Woelber on Team Minnesota are Emily Covert, of Minneapolis, and Ben Olson, of Coon Rapids. Covert and Olson both made the national games for the 800-meter run. The events take place on Saturday, with the kids enjoying a full day at Hershey Park today.
"It is a lot of fun for the kids and there are a lot of different things they will get to do while they are there," Team Minnesota chaperone C.J. Nelson said. "They'll get a lot of souvenirs and prizes while they are there and they'll be fed really well, too."
This year's trip to the national meet is the first for both Bucher and Fest but Woelber is a veteran of the Hershey Games, having competed at nationals last year in the softball throw.
"It is my second year going, so I'm more comfortable this time," Woelber, 13, said. "I'm also going to try and see, do and soak in more while I'm there. It should be a lot more fun this time."
All three of the southwest Minnesota athletes didn't feel like they had a chance to make the national meet after their softball throws at the state meet, so they were all surprised when they heard the good news.
"I was really surprised that I made the national meet," Fest, 10, said. "Not many people get to go, so I thought I wouldn't make it. I'm really lucky to be one of the few from Minnesota to go."
At the state meet, Woelber threw the farthest of the three southwest Minnesota kids after launching the ball 218 feet. Fest was the next best with a long throw of 141 feet, followed by Bucher who threw the softball 105 feet.
"At districts I threw 228 feet, so I wasn't sure that 218 feet would be enough to make the national meet," Woelber said. "But I was still pretty happy with myself because I threw the ball 206 feet at state last year, so that is a big improvement. So, I'm really excited about that."
When the kids start the competition on Saturday, they will be going up against the best young athletes in the country in each of their given events. But that is part of the fun for Woelber and the rest of the kids.
"I am really excited about getting to compete with the best in the country," Woelber said. "I'm looking forward to seeing where I rank against those kids."
Even though it is a competition, Bucher knows that she only has to do her best for the weekend to be a success.
"I'm just going to throw the ball and see how well I do," Bucher said. "I practiced a lot between the meet in Worthington and the state meet, so I think I'm ready for nationals. I just have to do my best."
Like most kids, Bucher and Fest are both looking forward to the time they get to spend at Hershey Park today, including the amusement rides and all the chocolate they will get to eat.
"Hershey Park will be the best part of the trip," Fest said. "There will be a lot of chocolate."
"For me, I think the tour of the Hershey factory will be the best," Bucher added.
For Woelber, who got to do all those things last year, the part of the weekend he is looking forward to the most is the end of the games party on Saturday night.
"The last day party will be a lot of fun," Woelber said. "They have a dance and a lot of other fun things to do which should be a good time. It is also a nice time to get to know people and say goodbye to the friends you make during the whole thing."
Team Minnesota arrived in Pennsylvania early Thursday morning and flies back to Minnesota early Sunday morning after the completion of the games on Saturday.
"All the kids are really excited because there are so many different things for them to do that are different than what they are used to," Nelson said. "This is also the first opportunity some of the kids have gotten to fly on a plane. All of them will get to experience a lot of new things and I think that is good for them."