BRISTOL - The Greater Bristol Invitational is in its second incarnation and, with the second annual meet starting Friday afternoon and ending under the lights at Bristol Central, the Bristol track and field community hopes that the yearly event can continue to grow and make an impact on the city.
The resurrection of the Greater Bristol Invitational was spearheaded by Rams boys track and field coach Tamara Stafford and BCHS teacher and sports supporter Dave Greenleaf.
Part of Stafford’s desire to revive the invitational was her experience with it when she went to high school.
“It’s awesome. I’m so excited,” Stafford said. “When I was back in high school at Bristol Eastern in the early ’90s, the Greater Bristol Invite was the only invitational I came to each year. It was here at BC one year, I remember it being at Wolcott one year and I just thought it was so cool. All these years I’ve been coaching, Dave Greenleaf and I have been saying, ‘Let’s do this.’
“So, finally, last year, we bit the bullet and did it and I ended up having knee surgery the day before the meet and missed the whole thing. But we got our lights this year and we’ve got the bleachers and everything so it was really my dream to move it here. It’s pretty darn cool, I have to say. It’s kind of been a dream of ours. I love track and field. We’re trying to kind of promote it in this city and the state.”
Last year and during the first run, the meet drew just a handful of teams; but this year, 17 girls teams and 15 boys teams descended upon the new Bristol Central track.
“It’s kind of exciting to see this with all these teams, because when we used to do it, there were only eight teams,” Greenleaf said. “It was only the local teams. It’s kind of neat to see so many teams here. I didn’t expect that. I think it’s a great thing for everybody. We get some spectators here to see track.”
The people running the meet were not the only ones impressed by the increased size. The athletes were equally enamored.
“I think it’s pretty cool to have all these teams here,” Bristol Central’s Kaynan Conrod said ahead of the competition. “Hopefully we all do really good.”
“Even last year at Bristol Eastern, it was a lot smaller, so this year is such a great turnout,” Bristol Eastern’s Harrison Dayton said. “It’s impressive.”
With new life having been breathed into the Greater Bristol Invitational, the city’s track and field community has some goals for the meet. The first is to create a new tradition around the competition, both for athletes in Bristol and those on teams traveling to Bristol.
“We have invites that our kids look forward to every year. And a couple of those invites that don’t exist anymore were invites where some of the races were run under the lights,” Stafford said. “This is definitely an event that we want people to appreciate and love and we want their kids to say, ‘Oh, we can’t wait to go back to Bristol Central next year.’”
In expressing his hope that this meet will grow, Dayton compared it to another meet that many teams circle on their schedule every season.
“I know there’s always the big [meets], like the Middletown Invitational, so I’m sure that’s something that’s really popular for Middletown,” he said, “and now I think Bristol is sort of developing their own event like that.”
The invitational’s growth could also lead to more familiarity between teams that don’t see each other very often, which would hopefully spawn some friendly rivalries.
“It’s definitely a great opportunity to face a lot of different teams,” Bristol Eastern’s Jillian LeBeau said. “We don’t see a lot of these teams in a regular season so it’s pretty cool. It’s a great opportunity for us to build up Bristol, build up our teams and get some good competition going.”
The second goal that people around the meet have - and maybe most important - is that it will have an impact on the youth track and field scene in Bristol.
“I think it’s a big deal,” Stafford said about the effect the invitational could have. “I have nine- and six-year-old daughters who are currently running youth track out of Bloomfield because we don’t have anything here. I’m kind of just watching what they do and thinking about maybe starting something here.
“I think it’s a big deal for kids to be able to come out here and see their older brothers and sisters and cousins competing because, unfortunately, in Bristol they don’t sniff track until freshman year and at that point, we’re almost behind the game. Now we’re trying to teach kids things that they’ve never done before. I think this will be one step that Bristol needs to take in growing our track and field programs.”
Both the Rams and the Lancers have found success in the past and that was without a feeder system teaching young kids different track and field events. Part of the excitement around the Greater Bristol Invitational’s resurrection is how it could impact the level of talent flowing onto both teams.
“Hopefully something like this can open people’s eyes to get a track club for youth here because I think that’s really important in building a future in track,” Conrod said. “I hope that happens.”
“It’s definitely going to impact [young kids] because they’re going to see us here and they’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, it’s so cool. I want to do that,’” LeBeau said. “It’s definitely a good thing. Drum up more business.”
Josh Kestenbaum can be reached at 860-973-1811 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @K_baum30