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Growing in popularity: Owl track doubles in size from last season

A group of Hancock track and field participants huddle near the exit of the track at the season opener at Minnewaska on Friday, April 5, in Glenwood. The Owl track and field teams doubled in size from a season ago. Brooke Kern / Stevens County Times

After two down years in participants, the Hancock track and field program has more athletes this season and is well over its five-year average for numbers in the program.

According to the Minnesota State High School League roster, the Hancock boys and girls track and field program has 40 athletes in 7-12 this spring. That is an increase from 18 total in 2018 and 13 total in 2017 and is more than double the five-year average, which is just under 20 athletes total.

"We are extremely excited to be able to run some relays this year," Hancock head coach Scott Thompson said of the Owl girls team, which has had six participants in the last two seasons.

The addition of assistant coach Kalee Nuest is a big reason for the growth of the girls program.

"She competed in track and field in college at Gustavus Adolphus College and brings a ton of knowledge of the sport to us. She has all of these kids in class throughout the day and our students gravitate towards her," Thompson said. "I believe her presence will continue to grow the girls track team in numbers."

As for the boys, Thompson believes his teaching role in Hancock helps recruit boys to the program.

"Being an Industrial Tech teacher has really helped to recruit high school boys (to the track program) as I spend a lot of time with some of them in my classes," Thompson said.

Thompson said flexibility is also important for track and all spring sports.

"We also made our program flexible with multi-sports, jobs or other activities in the spring. I understand that track isn't necessarily going to be most athlete's number one sport, but we want our athletes (in track) so we can continue to improve them for other sports seasons," Thompson said. "A good example of this is that a few of the high school boys spend a ton of time lifting weights during track because their main goal is to get stronger for football."

"Athletes (in fall and winter sports) are starting to see the benefits that track can have in their other sports," Hancock baseball coach and athletic director Chad Christianson said.

At Hancock, athletes can participate in both track and field and softball or baseball. Most just play just one spring sport, not including trapshooting, so the impact that the growth of the track and field program has on other spring sports is minimal, other coaches said.

"I don't think there is much effect on any of the (other sports) programs as (there aren't) many kids that are doing both sports," Hancock softball coach Ryan Snyder said. "If they would want to do both, they have to end up prioritizing one of them anyway as games and meets are often on the same day."

Montana Molden is the only boy in both baseball and boys track and field this spring. The softball team doesn't have any dual sport athletes, but they did lose Jenna Kannegiesser and Jordan Hausmann off of the 2018 roster to join girls track and field this spring. Hausmann did participate in both softball and girls track and field in 2017 and 2018.

Numbers may be down on the varsity softball team this spring, but the numbers in the program as a whole are steady, Snyder said.

"We have been fairly steady with our 7-12 numbers since we started the program," Snyder said.

As Hancock high school enrollment continues to climb, so do numbers in athletic programs, Christianson said.

"Our numbers in all athletics has been maintaining or increasing over the past five years. One big thing for us is that the high school continues to grow in enrollment and is expected to continue to grow over the next few years," Christianson said. "When I started coaching in 2010-2011, our (Minnesota State High School League) nine through 12 enrollment was 66, now this number is at 88."

Brooke Kern

Please send sports story ideas, photo submissions, and comments to bkern@stevenscountytimes.com.

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