by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Zimmerman track-and-field has been a fairly successful program for several years, especially for a school that lacks its own facility.
Next year, the Thunder will finally have their own home field. A ground-breaking ceremony was held Monday for a nine-lane track that will be available next spring.
“Next year, hand-offs, hurdles, jumping, pacing drills, starts and so much more will be a part of practice every day,” said Jennelle LeBlanc, head coach of the boys and girls track teams.
Jaime Hilyar, activities director, commented that a track team working out without a track is a little like “Lance Armstrong training without a bike.”
The Thunder started track in 2005 when 20 kids joined the Elk River team as a co-op. In 2006 the school had its own team, with 80 kids turning out, under coaches LeBlanc, Kish, Koenig and Horning.
That first year, three ZHS athletes barely missed a state berth, Leblanc noted.
Since 2007, the Thunder have qualified for state in at least one event. A big highlight for the program occurred last week when junior Cassie Ortberg placed second in the 300-meter hurdles at state, in the first year ZHS was competing with big schools in Class AA.
“Over the seasons, the coaches have had to be very creative in running practices and creating workouts,” LeBlanc said. “The team and coaching staff are very grateful that Russ Gnan and his Elk River staff have been accommodating over the years, as our kids have been able to occasionally practice on their track.”
Superintendent Dr. Mark Bezek took part in the ground-breaking ceremony. He noted that their have been “bumps along the way” with changing enrollments and other issues. He thanked the school board and the district for their efforts.
Zimmerman has never entered a pole-vaulter in a meet, due to the lack of a practice facility. Hilyar said plans are to add that event in 2013 provided they can find a pole-vault assistant coach.
The Thunder track team has had excellent turnouts each year despite the lack of a proper track.
Their state place-winners have included Melissa Femrite in sprints (as high as third), a girls 4-by-100 relay, Brandon Geise in long jump, and Ortberg. The girls team has won a sub-section championship. This year, the Thunder girls placed second and the boys third in their new conference, the Granite Ridge.
“Thunder track is looking forward to the construction and completion of our track,” said LeBlanc. “We are excited to host our first meet next year.”