Region’s best converge for Elks Invitational
IT’S ONE OF THE BIGGEST EVENTS IN THE LAHONTAN VALLEY THAT DRAWS MANY OF THE BEST ATHLETES IN THE REGION.
And it never fails to disappoint, thanks in large part to the many volunteers.
The 44th annual Elks Invitational begins at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday with the field events before the preliminary round of the track events at 9 a.m. at the Edward Arciniega Athletic Complex. Admission is $4 for adults and $3 for children.
“We have great people who come back each year and work the meet and parents of the team members step up and do a great job,” Fallon boys coach Steve Heck said. “It is a community effort that has developed over many years. Coaches want to come to meets that run smoothly and our volunteers take pride in putting on a quality event. The coaching staff here also does a great job getting things set up for the meet and really keep thing moving on meet day.”
Thirty-two schools and about 950 athletes from all four of the state’s divisions converge will converge in the Lahontan Valley as the Elks Invitational has served as the unofficial beginning of the track season.
The volunteers have been the steady force behind this meet, year in and year out. This year will be no different with many giving up a Saturday to help make the invitational run without a hitch.
“They always have great help,” Orong said. “They’re very professional. They know what they’re doing. Steve (Heck) has been great about making sure everything is in order. It’s top notch.”
While teams spent the first two weeks competing in smaller, conference meets, this weekend marks the first true test to see where everyone stacks up in the region.
“This is the first look we get for anybody,” Fallon girls track coach Paul Orong said. “This is the first look we get to see the rest of the (Division) I-A. It’s the first look we get to see the Division 1 teams. It will give us a benchmark where we’re at now and where we need to be.”
The invitational, which is run by about 70 volunteers, is known for drawing most of the region for one day, which is followed by the Reed Sparks Rotary Invitational. Both have become staples in the track season when high schools can rely on strong competition before the postseason in May.
“It’s the first really big meet. It’s always been that first big meet,” Orong said. “To me, this is when track really starts. Everyone’s used to doing their conference meets. We run it like a state meet. That’s when people start to understand. You get the two big meets in the north back to back. It really sets the bar with what Northern Nevada track is.”
For Orong in his 20-plus years with the program, he has seen many great athletes compete in the Elks Invitational but one moment stands above the rest.
Aarik Wilson, who won the state triple jump crown before becoming an All-American at Indiana and qualifying for the 2008 Olympics, was a freshman and helped step in. He competed in the freshman/sophomore meet, which occurs the day before the Elks Invitational, and won the triple jump. When someone couldn’t compete in the Elks, Wilson stepped in and Orong knew he had something special brewing.
“Aarik comes in because someone was sick and then wins that,” Orong recalled. “That’s when I found out I had something special in Aarik Wilson. You’re always going to have a good thing or two. That’s my big memory of that meet.”
Heck takes pride in the annual event that was started by ex-Greenwave coach Bert Serrano in the early 1970s. Many things have stuck out for Heck both as a member of the team in the 1980s and as a coach and organizer. Heck recalls a Grant Union athlete who had an audience lined along the runway to watch him jump, as well as a Reno discus competitor who threw it out to the fence.
But the 300 hurdles race in 2005 and watching his four children compete stick out the most.
“There had been a great stretch of girl hurdlers for several years and it was capped off when Polly Smith of North Valleys set the meet record of 45.62,” Heck said. “She just edged out Kayla Sanchez of Carson who had won the 100 meters earlier in the day. Of course, I have fond memories of competing myself and then watching all four of my own kids compete here. It is also nice to coach here with Bert Serrano, my former coach and the man responsible for starting the meet in the first place.”
The Greenwave, while young, has shown strong promise already through the first two weeks. The boys team has placed in the top four in two meets, while the girls captured last week’s Yerington Relays, thanks to strong performances in the throws and jumps.
It helps that the first big meet of the year is being held on your home track.
“It’s always exciting because we get to do it in front of the parents and our fans,” Orong said. “Our girls are always excited. We look forward to this meet. We don’t try to put pressure on us but we always try to do well. We’re excited about seeing all those buses showing up again.”
And Fallon will get to show off its new throwing complex, which is now one of the best in the state.
“We are hoping to have the community come out and watch this weekend. It will be a great show,” Heck said. “We are really excited about our new throwing complex. I think it will showcase the great shot and discus athletes who will be competing.”