Tonawanda News — It was her turn to do the long jump, and Jillian Sperrazza was ready.
Sperrazza dashed down the runway at Kenmore's Crosby Field on Monday, ponytail bobbing in the breeze, eyes on the sand pit at the end. As she reached the foul line, she leapt and landed about a foot away, smiling before she turned and trotted back to the line of children waiting their turn, leaving tiny footprints trailing in the sand behind her.
At only 3 1/2 years old, Jillian is already a veteran of the Town of Tonawanda summer track program, which is open to children from age 3 (and occasionally slightly younger) up through 15 years old. For two hours each weekday for about six weeks each summer, they gather at Crosby Field to learn the ropes of track & field, culminating in the annual town track meet today.
The meet features such events as the 50-meter dash and softball throw for the youngest competitors up to a full slate of events including runs from 100 to 1,500 meters, high jump, long jump, triple jump and shot put for the oldest. Those who qualify in each event will move on to the Town of Tonawanda Invitational Track Meet on July 31.
Recreation coordinator Gary Crawford said that the program's numbers have been strong, with upward of 200 children taking part each year — both newcomers and those who started at Jillian's age and have returned each summer for years.
"We have had some success stories," Crawford said. "A few of the kids, I've seen their names in the paper for Ken East or Ken West track and cross country. That's the rewarding part, seeing them progress through those programs.
"The idea is kind of getting them hooked on the sport and keeping them coming back."
Jeff Gemmer, the summer track & field coordinator and a longtime coach and physical education teacher at Canisius High School, said that the program was started about 30 years ago by Larry Veronica, a Bennett High School coach. Gemmer, a graduate of Kenmore East High School, has been involved himself for about 25 years.