This past Monday, May 7, was the annual Conway public school citywide sixth grade track meet. Students from all four middle schools gathered at John McConnell Stadium for an introduction to track and field, but mostly for an afternoon of fun.

This middle school meet has been going on for a while now.

But years ago, it was the citywide fifth grade track meet, back when elementary schools included that grade.

Elementary is now kindergarten through fourth. Middle school is now fifth, sixth and seventh grades.

Students begin competing in school-sponsored sports - football, volleyball, basketball and track - in the seventh grade. That’s when they first become Wampus Kittens.

So, toward the end of their sixth grade year, the coaches introduce the kids to track and field. It is a real competition, as the four middle schools compete for team honors, and individual places are awarded, as well. But it really is mostly for fun.

I have a friend who ran track at Conway High in the late 1980’s.

Those were the glory days for girls’ track, as the Cats won four straight state championships from 1986 to 1989.

She was a great sprinter and helped win three of those titles.

Years later, we asked her when was the first time she realized she was fast. Her answer was at the fifth grade track meet.

This annual sixth grade meet provides lots of kids an opportunity to compete in something.

There are some of the regular events, but also things like tug of war.

hey replace the shotput with a tennis ball toss.

In their PE classes, they expose students to basic elements of track and field. They of course run, and they do things like the long jump.

That exposure convinced my daughter that she wants to run track next year as a seventh grader.

Neither she nor I have any idea what events she may run.

She may or may not be any good at it, but that is really not the point of middle school sports.

The point, in my opinion, is to expose kids to something new. Something they might enjoy. Something they might be good at. Something good for them.

Track and field on the high school level is alive and well.

But, it has suffered some from the year-round specialized nature of most sports now.

Used to be, many football players participated in track and field to stay in shape in the spring.

But now, they have high school spring football practice, plus all the 7-on-7 stuff.

I am not saying at all that there are not a lot of good athletes still participating in track and field.

But, there is no question that there are some athletes that could be successful in track who are busy doing other things.

But at least in middle school, I’m glad they can give track and field a try.