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Kids run, jump and bunny-hop at Worthington youth track program

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CJ Nelson signals a runner when to start while sending kids on a relay race Monday morning at the Worthington Area YMCA Youth track and field program. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- As youth sports go, track and field is not quite as famously attended as Little League baseball or soccer, but on Monday morning more than 20 kids between the ages of 6 and 14 met at Worthington’s middle school track to run, jump and have fun.

Not all of them will grow up to compete on high school and college track and field teams, but that of course wasn’t the highest priority for instructor CJ Nelson.

“For the most part, I just try to make it fun,” he said.

On this bright morning, he was successful. The kids began by stretching, then they were sent on a jog once around the track. Most of the other drills were approached with a game-like quality, although they were also designed to teach proper practice techniques.

Nelson placed cones on the track and told them to run to them with high knee kicks. Then he instructed them to use long strides. “Reach as far as you can,” he said.

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And they did.

They did hip-hop running. They learned how to run sideways with scissors steps, which was hard for most of them to do. But they tried their best to succeed, and nobody fell. For the few who didn’t quite get it, Nelson helped them individually.

The summer program is part education, part game, part fun. Probably mostly fun, in fact.

“Part of it is just getting people out with other people, and getting them out with groups -- getting them some basics,” Nelson said, adding that he’s careful not to tire them out.

“If they run too much, I don’t think that’s something that they enjoy, and they might not want to come back,” he explained.

They sprinted to the cones, turned and ran back to start. They did a bunny-hop to the cones, too. Near the end, Nelson engaged them in a relay race all around the track.

Some of those bunny hops more closely resembled skipping. But no matter.

A couple of the kids ran in flip-flops. Maybe next time they’ll be told they can go faster in tennis shoes.

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One of the littlest ones wore a T-shirt for the occasion, which read, “Training Never Stops.” Another one practiced (competed?) in a T-shirt that read, “Grease the Beast.”

“Usually right now, I’m getting ready to have an all-comers track meet, and that ain’t gonna happen. This is as close as I’m going to get to it,” said Nelson, referring to the annual Worthington event that was canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of Monday’s kids would have competed in the all-comers meet. But there’s always next year, and if the organizers add the bunny hop to the slate of events, they’ll be ready.

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Children from 6 to 14 run a lap around the Worthington Middle school track while warming up for a morning of fun Monday. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

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