Nearly 700 elementary age students took to the Beach Lake Trails a week ago in the thirteenth installment of the Beach Lake Jamboree which began in 2004.
“The Jamborees are the premiere elementary cross-country running event for the city of Anchorage,” Melanie Sutton said. She is the Anchorage School District’s curriculum coordinator for health and physical education for K-12. “These massive races are coordinated events that require months of preparation and the dedication of Health and PE specialists across the district to promote running, develop clubs, sign-up runners, bring their school teams to the events, man stations on the trails and fields, and ensure the safety and participation of the runners.”
The bit of drizzle from Mother Nature didn’t damper spirits as parents and student athletes from both local high schools manned safety stations along the trails as elementary students took off by grade and gender from the starting line on the Chugiak High School practice fields. Speakers blasted loud pop music as kids danced at the starting line waiting their turn to start running.
In this race, everyone is a winner. All participants wear the same bib number – the coveted “bib 1” – explained Sutton.
“The Jamborees are free events with no winners or losers,” Sutton said.
Race distances varied by age group. Kindergarten students had a 1.2-kilometer race, while first and second graders ran a 1.5-kilometer race. Third and fourth-grade students did a 1.8-kilometer course and fifth and sixth grade ran 2.1 kilometers.
The history of elementary age cross country running jamborees in the Anchorage Bowl dates back to 1987 when Mike Allan, the PE teacher at Baxter Elementary organized the first district-wide event. By 2003, 1,200 elementary age students participated due to a significant increase in after-school running clubs.
“The majority of middle and high school students participating in cross country running programs today likely had their first exposure to the sport through attending an elementary jamboree,” Sutton said.
When Allan retired in 2003, several elementary PE teachers including Wayne Armstrong – then PE teacher at Birchwood ABC Elementary – worked together to create three running jamborees including the Beach Lake Trails event. More than 300 students participated in the 2004 BLT event which began and ended at Birchwood ABC.
Since then, the BLT event has blossomed into an annual tradition of small feet crunching crisp fall leaves underfoot as students make their way through the race course. The event begins with a course walk through and the Pledge of Allegiance before racing begins. Lisa Bunag is an Eagle River mom and the librarian at Alpenglow Elementary School. She loves that the Jambo gets her seven-year-old son, Miles, a second grader at Alpenglow, outside. The school has a fall and spring running club. Miles joined the club that began just a couple weeks into this school year.
He ended up walking part of the course, but that is okay with his mom. “I am just glad he is out there doing it,” she said. She also likes the fact that local students get to rub shoulders with students from other parts of the district at the Jambo and with older role models. “I especially love that the high schoolers help them out by running with them,” she said. “I think it is a great show of community support for the kids to be successful at something. I also love that every single kid gets a medal no matter their time in the race.”
The BLT Jambo is co-sponsored by the Play Every Day campaign from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services Obesity Prevention and Control program and the Healthy Futures program.
Local coordinators from the BLT Jamboree are Caela Nielsen and Chris Ruggles, PE instructors at Ravenwood and Eagle River Elementary Schools, respectively.