Friday, August 10, 2012

How sweet it was. Ten-year-old Grant Borkowski brought home heavy medal and some memories to savor from his first-ever appearance in the Hershey Track and Field Games North American Finals.

The games last Saturday in Hershey, Pa., for 9- through 14-year-old boys and girls resembled the Summer Olympics under way in London, with a parade of athletes into the stadium and lighting of a competition flame.

Grant, son of David and Lisa Borkowski of rural Lidderdale, earned a medal by taking sixth place out of the nine competitors in the 9- and 10-year-old boys’ softball throw with a 129-foot, 1½-inch effort.

The only disappointment Grant may have from his experience is knowing that if he hadn’t stepped over the line on one of his three throws, he may have climbed atop the podium to receive the first-place medal.

Grant scratched on a throw that sailed more than 150 feet. Cole Hage of Fargo, N.D., won the event with a 145-11 throw.

Grant qualified for the Hershey North American meet after winning the local competition in Glidden and then breaking the state record in Marshalltown that had stood for 15 years. His 159-10 throw there shattered the mark of 147-5 set by Christopher Dana of Waverly in 1997.

After the state meets, competitors are invited to the North American Finals based on how their performances stacked up against other state winners in their region.

Grant was flown with five other qualifiers from Iowa to the Hershey North American meet. Meanwhile, after dropping off Grant at Des Moines International Airport, his mom and dad — David works for a lawn-care service, and Lisa is owner-agent at Van Horn Insurance in Glidden — along with his brothers, Noah, 14, and Mitchell, 19, drove the 1,060 miles to Hershey in 16½ hours.

Hershey, known as the Town Built on Chocolate for the factory that produces candy bars, Kisses and other sweets, rolled out the red carpet for athletes.

“It was really impressive,” Grant’s mom, Lisa, said in an interview this week. “It was more than I thought it was going to be, the way they catered to the kids. Hershey did it well. They pay for everything. They flew them out. They took them to the museum park Friday afternoon. All they had to bring for the trip was $15 or $20 for some food.”

She added, “I never would have guessed they were catered to like that. It was a good experience. We’re really glad we let (Grant) go do it.”

The competition was held at Milton Hershey High School Stadium, where athletes paraded onto the track wearing strikingly colorful T-shirts representing their region of the country.

U.S. Olympic gold medalists Rafer Johnson and Carl Lewis were on hand to present the games’ awards, and Grant had the chance to meet both.

When the games began, the competition was top-notch, Grant says, noting that the winner in the 13- and 14-year-old boys’ 1,600-meter run set a record of 4:33.71, breaking a mark that had stood since 1991.

“If you qualified to run, you better know how to run. And the parents are followers, too,” Lisa said of the atmosphere.

Grant practiced daily for the competition, and Lisa said he’s benefited over the years from coaching by his dad and brothers and a lot of opportunity to play ball.

The Borkowskis enjoy baseball so much, they’ve mowed base paths and installed bases on the yard at their acreage north of Lidderdale.

At the Borkowskis’ home, baseball is nearly a year-round sport.

“When the snow isn’t on the ground, they’re playing ball,” Lisa said.

Grant said he’s been playing ball with his brothers since he can remember. Noah, a Glidden-Ralston freshman, competes in baseball, football, basketball and track, while Mitchell, a 2011 Glidden-Ralston graduate, participated in baseball, basketball and track.

The brothers play catch, and Grant and Noah have sharpened their fielding skills, with Mitchell hitting fly balls and grounders to them.

Grant said Mitchell can be a demanding coach, giving advice such as keeping his glove down to field the ball.

“When you do something wrong, he lets you know, doesn’t he?” Lisa said to Grant.

Grant said Mitchell has told him to aim his body and take a small hop for extra momentum as he steps into his throws.

As a member of The Fielders team from Glidden in the Carroll Parks and Recreation Little League program, Grant gets a chance to play almost every position, although pitcher is his choice. His favorite major leaguers include pitchers Cole Hamels of the Philadelphia Phillies, Tim Lincecum of the San Francisco Giants and Ryan Dempster, recently traded to the Texas Rangers from the Chicago Cubs. His favorite player of all the major leaguers, though, is Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano.

Grant also likes all sports and is looking forward to the upcoming flag-football season. He likes the quarterback position and is a big fan of the New England Patriots and their quarterback Tom Brady.

At the local Hershey track meet, besides softball throw, Grant qualified for state in the 100-meter dash and 400-meter run. At state, he ran the 100 in 15.88 but didn’t advance to the finals, and he opted out of the 400.

Grant, who will be a fifth-grader at Glidden-Ralston and also scores high marks in the classroom, is eager to try to qualify for the Hershey North American meet again next year. He improved his softball-throw distance nearly 50 feet from last year, but he noted he will be on the young side of the 11- and 12-year-old division next year, so there’s more practice ahead.