"Running is fun," Matthew says with a thoughtful smile. "When I cross the finish line, I'm happy and I feel like I need a rest. I've been running a long time."
Matthew and nearly 275 other athletes ages five to 15 competed in the season's first track and field meet of the Valley Youth Conference last weekend held at Burroughs High School in Burbank.
The meet brought Crescenta Valley's Los Angeles Falcons team in competition with the Santa Clarita Storm, another youth track team. Both teams competed in nearly all the traditional track and field events — running races including distance, sprints and relays, long and high jump and even shot put — in five different age categories.
"Track and field is a great activity for young kids," said LA Flacons Head Coach Pablo Carlos. "It is done on an individual basis and really provides self-esteem, motivation and a healthy challenge for the kids."
Because each event is scored individually, neither team comes out as a winner or loser of any particular meet. Instead, kids try to beat their individual scores and set new personal bests.
The "Gremlin" division competition, for athletes ages five to seven, are the crowd favorites. Parents and siblings shout in encouragement as the relays begin, the runners' little hands barely fitting around the circumference of the baton.
But the youth track program is not just for youngsters.
"I run here because it is more competitive [than school programs]," said a 14-year-old runner after finishing her 4x100 race. "I want to get better for high school."
One of the Falcons' goals is to encourage young athletes to continue with track and field into high school.
"I only wish I had the benefit of a program like this prior to my high school years," said Coach Phil Sutphin. "I am sure I would have enjoyed the sport even more than I did."