MEREDITH — While students are enjoying a wider range of options for their athletic pursuits – lacrosse is proliferating through New Hampshire high schools and club teams allow athletes to play soccer and basketball out of season – traditional high school teams sometimes have difficulty filling their rosters. At Inter-Lakes, though, one team is running contrary to that trend. More and more students are signing up for the track and field team.
So many Inter-Lakes students have joined the track and field team that the school board recently approved a request to hire a pair of additional coaches. The district had planned to use those funds to pay a junior varsity baseball coach, however, with 15 total baseball players this year, there's enough to fill only a varsity squad.
George Frost has been involved with the Inter-Lakes track and field for a dozen years, starting as a volunteer assistant coach. For the past four years, he and his wife Sandy have been the head coaches for the girls and boys track and field teams. In the first year that they assumed the head coaching roles, they had a team that numbered in the low 20s. The following year, it grew to 25 players, then shot up to 48 in their third year.
"It really jumped last year," said Frost. The growth continued, with 55 students joining the team this year. Last week, Inter-Lakes hosted its first home meet of the season, welcoming competitors from Moultonborough, Raymond, Campell, Winnisquam and Mount Royal Academy. The home team did well, with the boys taking first place and the girls earning second.
Frost said many factors have helped attract players to his team. For example, he praised the work of his corps of assistants, who help run a well-organized meet and in doingso build pride in the team. He and his coaches have also nurtured a close relationship between the high school team and their younger counterparts in the middle tier. Above all, though, Frost said he has sought to provide a positive athletic experience for his team members.
"We make it a blend of fun and challenge for the kids," said Frost. "This is Division III track, it's not Division I, it's not college level. We find a healthy balance of of challenging the kids but also having fun along the way."
With 17 different events at each meet, track and field has the advantage of offering many opportunities for athletes to compete for their school. "It's not just running. You can throw things, you can do different jumping events." Frost said he makes it a point to find at least one event, often more, for all 55 team members. "Everybody plays at every meet," he said.
After the meets, Frost and his coaches recognize improvement among their athletes, whether the runner came in first or last. He said there's a "big focus on personal bests," and if a player has set a new personal record, he or she is celebrated in front of the team. "We make a big deal on our team and everybody cheers."
With the rate of growth that he has seen, Frost isn't sure if participation will fall back to where it was in 2009, continue to rise, or if they've found a sustainable level of participation. "Maybe we were undersized before," he said.
Meanwhile, Inter-Lakes baseball coach Vint Choiniere said he's optimistic about the future of his program despite a dip in participation this year. "I see baseball across the country as a sport that has been struggling to maintain their numbers." With more choices available, he said some potential baseball players might choose a different activity. "Baseball is a very slow-paced, cerebral sport. The average kid likes running around on the field, the more active sports."
Choiniere said his team this year isn't dramatically smaller than in the recent past. Even when the high school has had a junior varsity team, he said the coach has often had to call up a few eighth graders to field every position. Even this year, Choiniere said he is working with the school's athletic director to schedule at least some junior varsity games. "We're going to do everything we can to get some games for the JV level kids."
The coach that would have overseen the junior varsity team has remained on the staff as a volunteer assistant coach, said Choiniere, and he hopes to have a junior varsity team next year.