Zeke Francis Youth Invite medal. [Photo by Tim Chappell / Moab Sun News]

Almost 50 young athletes and their parents descended upon the Grand County High School track for the first annual Zeke Francis Youth Invite on Saturday, Aug. 4. Members of the high school’s track and cross country teams, and about 15 additional volunteers, helped to put on the event, which afforded children ages 5 to 14 a chance they previously didn’t have locally to compete in a track meet before high school.

The event was put on by Jacob Francis, a 2014 Grand County High School graduate and member of the Southern Utah University track and field team, and the son of the meet’s namesake, Zeke Francis. Zeke helped coach Red Devil football and track for many years before his 2008 death.

Francis said there were 48 athletes total at the meet, exceeding the goal of about 30. Among the 48 athletes, many of them were last-minute sign-ups, bypassing the online registration process. Forty-one athletes registered online, all of whom were 12 or under, leaving the 13-14 age group unrepresented. The athletes were about evenly distributed in the other four age groups: 5-6, 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12.

On average, each participant online signed up for five events out of a possible 15, although many of them decided to scratch some of their events on race day. In high school, athletes are generally allowed to compete in up to four events, but the Zeke Francis Youth Invite allowed unlimited events.

One of the participants was Dayne Speicher, who competed in four events in the 5-6 age group, earning a second-place finish, two third-place finishes and a fourth-place finish. He said the hurdles were his favorite.

“Dad asked me if I wanted to do track (when he saw the flyer), and I said yes because I love to race,” he said.

Dayne’s father, Anthony Speicher, said the chance for kids to participate in the meet was a “great oppourtunity.”

“There wasn’t really anything for the kids in track and field until now,” he said.

Moab City Recreation Director Patrick Trim had two daughters in the meet: 10-year-old Elliot and 6-year-old Isla. He said he believes this track meet is was a great idea.

“The more we can offer the kids, the better,” he said.

Trim said giving local children recreational opportunities is a community effort, and applauded Jacob Francis for spearheading this track meet.

“I think you don’t know what the interest level is until you do something like this,” Trim said. “It’s a great turnout today.”

Trim said he hopes seeing this meet succeed will inspire more similar events to take place in Moab in the future.

As far as the X’s and O’s of putting on the track meet are concerned, Jacob Francis said, “It went awesome.”

“We had a lot of people show up and it ran fairly smooth,” he said. “There were a lot of last-minute sign-ups which made things hard, but we made it work. Next year, we plan to provide a shaded area for the spectators to help with the heat. We also plan on starting a little bit earlier in the day.”

Francis said 15 volunteers helped with the meet. Among them were retired teachers and former track and field coaches Bernie and Paula Radcliff. The Radcliffs assisted with getting the participants to where they needed to be on the track and directed them to Grand County High School Athletic Director Ron Dolphin, who fired the starting gun to signify the start of each race. Several members of the high school track and field team also helped with the track meet, which served as a fundraiser for the program. T-shirts were given to each participant and volunteer, and medals were awarded to kids who achieved podium finishes, Francis said.

Nearly 50 kids participate in inaugural Zeke Francis Youth Invite

 

“Dad asked me if I wanted to do track (when he saw the flyer), and I said yes because I love to race.”