Across a wide-open, freshly-cut Freeman Field, nearly 300 youngsters prepare for their cross-country races in bright, school-assigned colored T-shirts.

The kids’ laughter can be heard for more than a mile down State Road 11, as they stretch and jog to get their legs moving for their big competition.

Typically, Freeman hosts a handful of events for middle and high school races.

However, this fall is different. A new group of young runners is hitting the trails.

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Kids from kindergarten to fifth grade competed Saturday in the second of three EXCL Elementary Cross Country League races.

Immanuel Lutheran, St. Ambrose, Emerson, Brown, Jackson, Redding and Cortland Elementary schools all have running clubs this fall for the first time.

While the seven Seymour-based elementary schools practice separately under their coaches, they all meet on Saturdays to run EXCL.

The South Central Indiana Running Club has helped organized the league for the schools, and helps bring volunteers in to put on the races for EXCL’s inaugural season.

“This is our first year doing this, and we are really pleased with the number of kids coming out,” SCIRC board member Troy Kaiser said. “I think it’s good because we already have recreation baseball, football and volleyball, but kids weren’t getting introduced to cross-country in the middle school.

“By doing this, we are taking cross-country to kindergarten and above. They can run all the way through elementary school up to the high school. This year is a learning curve for us. We’re making decisions on the fly a little as we go. We expect more momentum as we go.”

During races, it’s just like a high school meet: with timers at the finish line volunteers working the course and ribbons near the water table.

The youngest kids run a 1K, while the older groups compete in a 2K.

The top 25 in each age group, girls and boys, all get special ribbons with their placings.

“This was one of the things we thought our schools needed,” SCIRC president Jennifer Hildreth said. “Once we got all the OKs through the schools and from Superintendent Rob Hooker and athletics director Brandon Harpe, we were able to get the coaches. We help the schools, but they do it all themselves.

“When we first dreamed up the idea, we thought nobody would show up or the whole town would participate. Kids just like to run. We’re always trying to slow them down, and now, we can say go run without stopping them. It’s a great feeling.”

SCIRC vice president Brad Cobb said the league has helped bring the community together.

“I kind of was taken aback when the numbers started rolling in,” Cobb said. “It’s cool to see so many kids. Many of the kids get nervous about playing team sports, but every kid wants to run.”

On Sept. 12, the kids raced for the first time.

Cobb said that cross-country offers a supportive, fun experience for kids.

“Last week was kind of our test,” Cobb said. “You’ve got kids from Immanuel to St. Ambrose to our public schools. All the kids are out competing and having a good time. You don’t see any side of negative competition here. Parents cheer for all the kids, even the ones that aren’t theirs — that’s just how cross-country is.”

For Cortland’s Vivian Newkirk, 6, the races have been a great time.

“It was really fun and hard,” Newkirk said after her race. “We had to run really long and it was hard not to walk. It’s a fun sport and it’s all about having fun and running.”

Nine-year-old Michael Brooks, of Immanuel, said he likes the competition.

“It’s hard, and you really want to get a good start,” Brooks said. “Sometimes you try to get first when you start by running hard, and then you don’t run as hard after. I like running because it’s fun to run. I hope to get first place next week, I want to run faster than I did today.”

Brown’s Mark Petro, 8, comes out every week to run.

“I want to run and have fun,” Petro said. “I keep coming out because it’s fun. I want to keep my pace going. I like to run at my house and (Freeman Field). It’s really big here at (Freeman).”

After his race, Emerson’s Miguel Anderson, 8, said “I wanted to race and win. My favorite part is the stretch (on the course). I want to run a lot more races. I’m going to run until Oktoberfest.”

Immanuel coach and teacher, B.J. Sinclair, said he’s had a lot of participation from his school.

“We’ve had a great turnout, 54 kids are running for us,” he said. “I don’t think anyone expected to have this many kids come out. No one is making them do it, they just come out and run.”

Jessica Sinclair Matern, who coaches Brown, started getting involved through SCIRC.

“I helped all spring with the SCIRC and they asked if I wanted to coach,” Sinclair said. “I think it’s awesome. The kids are super excited to come to practice every day. It’s an awesome thing to get involved in and be a part of.”

With bolstering numbers in its first year, the schools hope to continue the league in the future — and maybe host even more races next fall.

All results, and records, are online for the kids and parents involved.

The last scheduled race will take place Saturday.

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Southern Central Indiana Running Club (EXCL organizers and race hosts) board members are Jennifer Hildreth (President), Brad Cobb (Vice President), Kathy Sunbury & Troy Munson (Co-Treasurers), Karen Munson (Secretary), Joe Hildreth, Tim Brock, Kristi Brock, Troy Munson, Spencer Sunbury and Sara Bane.

Elementary coaches:

Brown-Jessica Sinclair & Makenzie Trinkle

Jackson-Kristi Brock

Immanuel Lutheran-BJ Sinclair

Emerson/St. Ambrose-Kathy Sunbury, Jenny Cooley and Pam Bowman

Redding-Spencer Sunbury, Mindy Stanfield and Molly Unterscher

Cortland-Kim Schafstall