Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team visit with elementary students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team visit with elementary students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

‘Building leaders’: Nikiski track and field team supports community

The team has restarted the Nikiski Talent Show, painted stars on the sidewalks at Nikiski North Star Elementary and begun to coach middle and elementary schoolers

Reviving traditions, strengthening ties and renewing investment in the local community has been an intentional effort of the Nikiski Middle/High School track and field team in the last couple years, said coach Billie Denison.

Jerry Snodgrass, Thayne Quiner and Ryder Maguire are all student athletes on the track team and on Wednesday said that those efforts have helped them to grow as student athletes and members of the Nikiski community.

Snodgrass said the track and field team has restarted the Nikiski Talent Show, painted stars on the sidewalks at Nikiski North Star Elementary and have also begun to coach middle and elementary schoolers.

The talent show, which was held on Monday, drew community members and peers, and Snodgrass said it offered an exciting opportunity to see the secret talents of the Nikiski community.

Maguire said he looked around Monday and saw his teammates involved, engaged and smiling — part of something bigger than themselves.

When working with the younger students, Quiner said they’ve been teaching the basics of track and field, things like running and jumping, which he foresees as strengthening the track and field program in Nikiski — inspiring the next generation.

“We’ve really been putting an emphasis on having a community-centered team,” Maguire said. “That both improves us as members of our school and our community.”

Denison said that when she came on as a coach at Nikiski Middle/High, she noticed that some of the traditions she loved when she was a student at the school had gone away — that includes the talent show.

When it came time to consider fundraising, she saw an opportunity. The talent show is not something that necessarily has anything to do with track and field, but Denison said it’s something that the community needed and wanted. Suddenly, her athletes were pulling curtains, rolling the piano, and engaging directly with people from the wider community.

Similarly, working with the elementary schoolers came almost by happenstance. Denison said elementary students and teachers saw the recently repainted paw prints that lead to Nikiski Middle/High and remarked that it would be cool to similarly have stars leading toward Nikiski North Star. That became the first big community project that her team took on.

Snodgrass and Maguire said they didn’t have a lot of experience working with younger kids before they started visiting the elementary school, but they tried to emulate the teaching styles and mentorships they’ve received from coaches or other older athletes like the Kenai River Brown Bears.

Quiner said he was more used to working with kids because he has younger siblings, but that he made an effort to be role model that he wishes he had; someone to offer guidance and encouragement to young athletes so they can develop their passions earlier.

“I think that’s what starts to create the love of sports,” Maguire said.

Denison said the track team has worked with third, fourth and fifth graders.

“I introduce it, but then I step back and I let these kids be leaders,” she said. “We’re not just building athletes, we’re building leaders.”

Things like the talent show, the coaching and the other volunteer work, Quiner said, make the track team something more than just a group of student athletes. Maguire said they fill the team with pride for their town and give them an opportunity to give back.

Their coach shared a similar sentiment, saying that the team becomes a larger presence in the community and repays some of the significant investments of time and money that are put in to each of the athletes that make up any high school sports team.

“I’ve seen a difference in the sense of pride in the program,” Denison said. “They’re valued in their community outside of just winning a state title.”

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.

Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team lead an exercise with elementary students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team lead an exercise with elementary students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team lead an exercise with elementary students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team lead an exercise with elementary students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team lead an exercise with elementary students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team lead an exercise with elementary students at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team paint stars along the sidewalk at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

Athletes from Nikiski Middle/High School’s track and field team paint stars along the sidewalk at Nikiski North Star Elementary School in Nikiski, Alaska. (Photo provided)

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