Fifth and sixth grade students from several schools in Bennington County participate in the first lap of  the 38th annual Bennington District Track Meet,
Fifth and sixth grade students from several schools in Bennington County participate in the first lap of the 38th annual Bennington District Track Meet, held at Mount Anthony Union High School in Bennington on Wednesday. (Holly Pelczynski/Bennington Banner/photos.benningtonbanner.com)

BENNINGTON -- Fifth and sixth grade students from several area schools gathered at the Mount Anthony Union High School track on Wednesday to get their first taste of competing in track and field.

The Bennington District Track Meet, now in its 38th year, is run by the MAUHS track team. The event was founded by Steve Zemianek, who was track coach at the high school from 1974-2000, and whose daughter, Kathy Zemianek, is still involved with the race today.

"The purpose is to get kids exposed to track and field," said the younger Zemianek, "It's not one of the sports that's heavily advertised, but everyone can do it." Zemianek, musing about the event's history as the schools began to arrive, said, "This race has been going on forever. I ran it!"

Zemianek, along with Shaftsbury Elementary School teacher Laura Boudreau, help organize the event, but much of the work is done by the high school track team. "Kathy and I do very little," said Boudreau, "The high school kids really run this."

Each school participating wore a different color shirt. The public elementary schools in Bennington -- Bennington Elementary, the Molly Stark School, and Monument Elementary -- wore gray with red, green, and gray with green respectively. Pownal Elementary wore white; Shaftsbury Elementary wore light blue; the Village School of North Bennington wore tie-dye; and the Sacred Heart School wore yellow. Mount Anthony Union Middle School sent representatives from all three of their sixth grade teams, with Bromley wearing blue, Okemo wearing orange, and Stratton wearing pink. Woodford Elementary and the Grace Christian School were unable to attend to event. In total, about 300 students participated.

A group of fifth and sixth grade students, lead by MAUHS senior Carly Rogers, began the event by singing the national anthem. Students then left the bleachers and ran a lap of the track, lead by the MAUHS track team. The fifth and sixth graders then returned to the bleachers to await their events. Each student was only allowed to compete in one track event, one field event, and one relay, so as to ensure that as many kids could take part as possible.

Events included races ranging from 50-400 meters, shot put, discus, long jump, and several relay races. Most of the races were split up into fifth grade boys, fifth grade girls, sixth grade boys, and sixth grade girls, except for the relays, in which fifth and sixth graders competed together. Ribbons were awarded to the top six finishers in each event, but no overall team scores were kept, and Boudreau stressed that it wasn't the competition that mattered, but simply that as many students as possible participate. Every student received a purple participation ribbon.

"It's so important," said Boudreau of the meet, "It brings all the fifth and sixth graders together. It's a really great community event."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at dcarson@benningtonbanner.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB