By FRED KRONER
A longstanding tradition within the Mahomet-Seymour school district could be on its way out.
After more than a half-century of holding a spring track and field Junior Olympics competition at Lincoln Trail Elementary School, the event is in limbo.
Physical education teacher Lu Rippy — who retired at the end of the fall semester — has helped orchestrate the Junior Olympics since 1993.
Her retirement and the hiring of first-year teacher Luke Hearn (who started this week) to fill the void were among the factors Lincoln Trail principal Jeff Starwalt sited as possible reasons to disband the competition for third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.
Rippy’s colleague, Bonnie Moxley, has also assisted with the organization and implementation of the Junior Olympics — which annually falls after the standardized testing is completed — and said the event doesn’t need to be dropped.
“The first week of school (in August), Lu and I met with Jeff and I told him I was willing to run it,” Moxley said.
Despite the offer — and the knowledge that Rippy and her husband, Chuck, would still continue their involvement — Moxley is not optimistic.
“I feel like he is not going forward with it, and it doesn’t make sense,” she said. “We were dumbfounded by that attitude. I felt the news needs to go out to parents.”
There has been no formal announcement canceling the event, which can be traced back at least to the mid-1960s.
In fact, Starwalt said on Thursday, “There hasn’t been a decision. We will look at what we have, and if we can work it out, we’ll try to do it.”
Though Moxley will retire at the end of the school year, she doesn’t want to see the Junior Olympics halted during her watch.
“I’ve been there the last 22 years running it with Lu,” she said. “I’m very willing to spearhead the Junior Olympics.”
Starwalt said that possibility has not been discounted.
“I suppose she could,” he said. “That’s something we’ll get to. That is a busy time for her (as the high school girls’ track and field coach).”
Rippy said it’s not too late to move forward.
“All the equipment is there (at the high school),” Rippy said. “The only thing that needs to be done is to order the ribbons and stickers.”
Jodi Murphy has had five children participate in Junior Olympics while at Lincoln Trail.
“My kids loved it. They all looked forward to it,” Murphy said. “Some kids who are not honored academically get to shine and have a chance to excel.
“There’s something for everybody, whether it’s throwing a ball, the standing long jump or running. Everyone has a chance to compete and do something.”
Rippy took over running the Junior Olympics from Pat Warren and soon tweaked the format. In 1999, she established the record board in the Lincoln Trail gymnasium and has updated it as new marks were broken.
“Some records are still standing from ‘99,” Rippy said. “Some have been broken only once and some have been broken many times.”
The Junior Olympics is organized by grade level.
Third-graders compete in their choice of running, jumping or throwing events, but are not timed.
“I decided I didn’t want that competition for third-graders,” Rippy said. “I wanted it more as a learning experience for them.”
The fourth-graders participate over two days. Half of the sections have their events one day and the other half have theirs the next day.
“We give ribbons to first, second and third (each day),” Rippy said. “Twice as many students could earn ribbons.”
All fifth-graders compete on the same day.
“I made it a growing process for the students,” Rippy said. “They end (in fifth grade) with what it would be like to compete in a regular track meet.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to show their talents. They love competition at this age.”
Moxley emphasized that the Junior Olympics are not an entity to themselves, but the final step in a process.
“We do an entire track and field unit,” she said, “and it culminates with that.
“There are huge benefits that are valuable. You can learn teamwork. It’s energy. It’s positive.”
Over the years, Moxley said efforts have been made to place the children in heats where they can be successful.
“We time the kids (in P.E.) and put them in like heats for the races,” Moxley said.
In addition to the individual portion of the competition, there has been a competition between the classes as well as sportsmanship recognition.
“I don’t feel we have the grounds for not running the event this year,” Moxley said. “There is an aversion to running these events and I’m not sure why. It’s a very positive message.”
Murphy said if manpower is a concern, she thinks that aspect can be covered.
“I can’t see people not wanting the kids to have that experience,” she said. “I’m sure parents would step up.”
Rippy’s concern is what the future holds if the event is not held in May, 2018.
“If it doesn’t happen, once Bonnie leaves, I don’t think it will ever be picked up again,” Rippy said.
Adults in the community who are in their 60s and are M-S graduates, recall participating in the Junior Olympics back in an era when former teacher Bill Harner was the organizer.
“It is a tradition,” Moxley said. “When you ask parents who have come through Lincoln Trail what their greatest memories are, Junior Olympics is usually one of them.”
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