After the COVID-19 pandemic ripped away track and field season for aspiring athletes this past spring, the Lakers were eager to reclaim some of that time.

The sound of a starting gun, hurdles along a stretch of blacktop, jumpers and pole vaulters clearing bars or soaring across sand pits and heavy objects like shots and discs being thrown.

All this and more made up the scene at Bob Shore Stadium Thursday night where Camdenton hosted an open track and field meet. After the COVID-19 pandemic ripped away track and field season for aspiring athletes this past spring, the Lakers were eager to reclaim some of that time back in late June.

“I think it has been a great experience for the kids,” Camdenton girls track and field coach John McNabb said after his program attended a similar meet at Lebanon a week prior. “Number one, we wanted something for our seniors. They missed the whole season and we wanted to give them the opportunity to compete one last time if they wanted to… Then we also wanted to do something with our younger kids because so many things pull at the kids during the year to do this, do that and specialize and all those other things.

“I wanted the kids to remember, ‘Hey, there was a track season and we did something and had fun with it and want you to come back next year.’ That was a big point for this and I’m glad a lot of the kids took advantage of it. No pressure, a great time, lots of fun for all of them and I think everyone enjoyed it. And that was our goal.”

Indeed, sports can provide a way to relieve some stress and serve as an escape in light of everything that has transpired the past few months. It was something McNabb, Camdenton boys coach Nick Bruck and athletic director Bill Kurtz were happy to provide and it certainly seemed to be refreshing for some of the athletes in action Thursday night.

“It is super touching knowing there is a community out there that supports you, encourages you and wants the best for you,” Camdenton senior Claire Holmes said of the event. “It is just awesome that my coaches are here, my family, people from other schools and everyone is cheering you on. It has been really awesome that this has been able to happen.”

The meet invited graduation seniors as well as current middle school athletes to participate and once the word got out, athletes from schools as far away as St. Francis Borgia near St. Louis or as far south as Branson were present.

“There are people who I’ve talked to from other schools today who I have not seen, would not have seen and would probably never see again,” fellow Camdenton senior Jase Nicklas said Thursday night. “But now, I get an opportunity to see how they are doing, where they are going to college and stuff like that. I would definitely say track is a social sport and it is awesome to get out and see everybody.

“Cool to see where we were our sophomore year versus where we are now. It is fun to see that growth and honestly, it’s really good conditioning,” Nicklas added with a smile as he plans to get ready to play football at Dordt University in northwest Iowa.

Being able to compete at home was fairly important, too, for Laker athletes as McNabb noted that the program was fortunate to be in an area that could put on this type of event compared to some places in the state of Missouri that unfortunately could not. He also took the time to thank all of his fellow coaches who put in the time and effort, showing up to the practices as well, when enjoying the summertime may have been just as tempting.

“It was really nice to get back into some form of normalcy. The kids enjoy it and we were here to coach them, that is kind of our job,” Bruck said with a smile. “As long as we got kids to coach, we are going to coach.

“This turned out to be a pretty good track meet. Everyone wants their kids to come out, compete and have fun and it was fun to see those kids do that.”

Before the meet, Camdenton took some time to honor seniors from every school in attendance. Holmes never imagined the ending shaping up this way, but it was a journey she was thankful to experience as she prepares to run cross country at Missouri S&T in Rolla.

“I don’t really know how to explain it just walking out here and knowing that it was my last time running here as a Laker,” the senior stated. “It is weird, bittersweet and has been an awesome ride. I have made so many memories here, so many friends and have learned so many life lessons on this track. It is something different and I never thought this, today, in the middle of summer would be my last time running here, but it has been awesome.

“No matter how you are feeling or what day it is, just give it your all, 100 percent, because you never really know when it is going to be your last,” Holmes said, also offering some words of advice. “People always say that, but it is not just if you get hurt. It happened to everyone and one day it will be your last. Just always give it your all, keep trying and do your best.”

For Nicklas, his advice came from a place of appreciation.

“Definitely just appreciate everyone around you. Not just the sports, but appreciate the time and more than anything just the people around you because that is what you are going to miss in the end,” he remarked.

McNabb saw a few smiling seniors Thursday night and it just shows how important the event was, even if it was just one of two meets compared to what is typically a season that lasts from mid-March to the end of May.

“Bunch of great kids. Really enjoyed them through their track careers and just the opportunity to develop relationships with those kids is a good thing,” the coach said of the senior class. “Just to see them all like tonight, see them walk out of here with a big smile on their face means something.”

Bruck was proud of his bunch as well.

“We talk a lot about character in one of these times where you don’t get to evaluate the athletic ability. I’m confident all of our seniors had high character,” he stated. “Some of them came back out and got to do another track meet or two, but they are definitely the kind of kids we want to put out of our track program. Kids that can contribute to society, work hard and do those types of things.”

Both McNabb and Bruck are hoping that some kind of track and field season will take place well before mid-June, but this type of meet may not be an outlier in the summers to come after seeing how well it went.

“Appreciate everyone coming out and I guess this is a good way to wrap up the track season. We’ve even had some of the coaches talk about the possibility of doing this again,” McNabb pointed out. “It is kind of like having a summer camp for some of the other sports and maybe we set up a couple of track meets and get more of our local schools involved.”