The USA Track & Field Three Rivers Association isn’t the most well-known club, but it attracts athletes in swarms.
Three Rivers Track and Field has between 1,200 and 1,400 registered members from western Pennsylvania in the youth division (17 and under) and the master’s division (18 and older).
Three Rivers, which allows local athletes of all ages to compete in meets around western Pennsylvania and the country, is one of 59 member associations of USA Track and Field (USATF), the national governing body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking.
But don’t get it confused with a typical high school track team.
“The main difference between high school and USATF events is that high school stresses team points. We work on a premise of individual performance,” South Butler head coach Dave Douthett said.
Douthett has seen the effect such a program can have on a child’s future. His son Seth, who works in the electronics field, developed an attitude that his father thinks has made him successful in the business world.
“It teaches competition,” Douthett says. “I mean in reference to life. It reinforces the idea that those who strive the hardest make it to the top.”
According to Bruce Long, Youth Cross Country Committee Chairman, the organization mostly consists of children. As a result, the focus of the group’s organizers is mainly on developing the kids’ abilities and on providing lasting memories of the sport.
“The motivation is to develop an athlete and promote the sport,” Long said.
The success of the organization in achieving this goal is evident, regardless of the perspective from which it is being observed.
Jan Zarzeczny is a mother of two members of the Wings of Moon team — Nicholas, 11, and Lucas, 13. She sees the benefits of the organization from where she sits in the stands at her sons’ meets.
“It’s allowed them (the children) to make new friendships and has helped with learning respect.” she said. “It also opens up opportunities for students without track programs.”
While it provides a chance for small public or private school kids to participate on organized track and field teams, it can cause conflicts for those athletes already on a middle or high school track and field team. WPIAL statutes prohibit student-athletes from participating on school teams and organized non-scholastic teams at the same time.
The Three Rivers Association schedule began in early May, which could potentially restrict some athletes from participation for up to two weeks because of the guidelines. However, missing a meet or two does not affect a runner’s or thrower’s position in the club.
There have been and continue to be many talented individuals participating in events sanctioned by the USA Track & Field Three Rivers Association.
The Three Rivers Association season comes to a close with the USATF National Junior Olympics in Omaha, Neb., on July 23-28.