It is quite unlike any other event — the eyes bubble-like, the smiles overwhelming and the efforts for real and totally genuine. Granted, there was a touch of wonder and curiosity in the faces of some 75 youngsters ages two to 10 in the 30th annual Haynes Apperson Kids Track Meet at Kautz Field Saturday morning.
But wonder and awe are more than beautiful when provoked by carefree wee-types who know nothing of pressure and demand — only “...lemme go....”
Grey skies and rain didn’t matter, and fear and doubt disappeared as tiny hearts took over in a marvelous rush of pure eagerness and innocence that only youngsters possess. It was especially heartwarming in the absence of the usual commotion of win at all cost that too often accompanies youthful fun and games.
Hundreds of proud moms and pops and grandparents, etc., did things the right way — urged and admired the youngsters from a distance and let them compete as best they could without the slightest hint of demand or urgency.
There were first, second and third-place ribbon winners, but every youngster got that all-important Haynes Apperson ribbon that said, “I was there, and I was in the hunt.”
It was pleasing to see the likes of four-year-old Charlotte Dascoli jump all of 2 feet, 3 inches for third place in the standing long jump and take second in the 25-yard dash; then see sister Katy leap 24 inches for fourth and gain fourth in the 50-yard dash.
Grandparents Dave and Linda Kitchell contained themselves rather well. As did Abby Ford, mother of 2-year-old competitor Ellyrose. Their smiles said it all.
There were many other young Haynes Apperson “Olympians” who made this rainy day special.
The aforementioned Ellyrose Ford, daughter of Abby and granddaughter of Gary and JoAnn Quinette, lunged 15 inches; five-year-old Jason Dickson Jr., son of Jason Sr. and Lisa, went 3 feet, 3 inches, and five-year-old Ezra Phelps soared 28 inches.
There was also the appearance of two promising newcomers, six-year-old Olivia Downing and three-year-old brother Owen “Ownie”, the bubbly offspring of Patrick, who both won ribbons in the standing jump and 25-yard foot race. Grandparents Ron and Pam Barsh displayed their youthful vigor and somehow kept their distance.
The competition got heavier in the eight-year-old class as Masie Smith, daughter of Suzy, and McKenna Layden, daughter of Jeff and Kathie Layden and grand-daughter of Dave and Joyce Wise, both went five feet in the long jump. Masie got the blue ribbon due to a longer second effort. But there was no difference in the smiles and satisfaction.
McKenna, who recently won the 400-meter dash in the Northwestern Jr. Olympiad and will be a third-grader come fall, ran away from everybody in the 50-yard dash in five seconds. Sister Madison, now a five-foot, five-inch sixth-grader, was awaiting the chance to continue her annual dominance in the free-throw shooting contest.
There is something very unique and exceptional about this Haynes Apperson event that brings out the best in so many dedicated people. Times may be tough, but dire consequences proved no match for 75 kids who proved immune to everything but happy times and complete freedom to romp and run.
And there are signs that say Haynes Apperson could become even larger. After all, this is the City of Firsts.
Dave Grandson was the front guy for many successful years, but the operation has since been handed to Dana Neer for the past three years with very capable assistance from Jordan Ousley, Joni McCracken, K.O. Jackson, Mike Smith and Paul Linder as well as girls track athletes from Kokomo and Western high schools.
But there were three special veterans making their 30th Haynes Apperson effort — Barsh, Stu Whitcomb and Dave Barnes— the latter driving back from Denver, Colo., after visiting 23-year-old son, Nicklus, who recently joined the DISH Network in Denver.
There are dedicated people, then there are people named Barsh, Whitcomb and Barnes who go more than a few steps above and beyond.
“I can’t thank all these people enough,” Ousley said. “They make it all possible. Our numbers may have been down due to the rain, but it was still a good day and the kids had fun. And that’s what it’s all about.”
The Haynes Apperson fest has become a bold signature for the city of Kokomo, a symbol of purpose and togetherness envied by many, matched by very few but prized by a citizenry that knows and understands that little things do mean a lot.
And who knows? Maybe the best is still yet to come.
Gene F. Conard can be reached through the sports department