A group of elementary students in the Umatilla School District is learning about the benefits of running through the McNary USA after-school group. Part of the district’s STEM program, McNary USA was started last year when year Troy Blackburn, head cross country coach in the Hermiston School District, wanted to start an elementary level cross country series of races for teams in Umatilla County. Blackburn organized five races and wanted to provide individual results and keep score for teams. In cross country you must have five runners to score; at the end of the series of races, the team that places the highest wins the grand prix series.
Umatilla’s McNary USA recently competed in two meets and both the girls’ and boys’ teams won both competitions. At the Footrace to Valhalla Grade School Race in Umatilla, six of the top 10 finishers were McNary USA runners. For the boys, five of the top 10 were from Umatilla. At Hermiston’s Bulldog Cross Country Festival, both teams also took first place. Eight of the top 10 girls and six of the top 10 boys were from McNary at the meet.
The team is coached by Frankie Garcia and Emily Potts, who along with running, talk to the students about handling both success and failure in running.
Garcia, a fifth grade teacher at McNary Heights Elementary, said eight of the runners are in his homeroom class and their confidence from the program is evident in class. “Once you invest in Umatilla kids you start to realize all of their talents. Some of our kids would have never picked up a sport if it wasn’t for McNary U.S.A. The cross country season is almost over and they are already excited about track and field in the spring,” Garcia said.
According to Brandt Lind, P.E. teacher at McNary Heights Elementary, he has seen genuine transformation in confidence in several students, who talk about the running club in their P.E. classes. “Running is great for neurotransmitter production. It helps level out kids who struggle with self control and emotional chaos. I have seen a handful of kids who have made great gains in emotional IQ,” Lind said.
Although these students may not be future Olympians, they are embracing exercise as a part of their lifestyle and have a healthy sense of pride for their team and school district, Lind said.
“McNary USA is a small part of what makes up Umatilla. I am not sure what it will look like in the future, but for now, it’s encouraging to me. I am hoping others in our community will also be encouraged,” Lind said.
The team will compete in one more meet this fall.