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Some 150 young athletes particapte in Hilltown Junior Olympics in Chesterfield

  • Hannah Labrie of Goshen makes her way around the track at Saturdays Hillton Junior Olympics
  • Right, the Chesterfield team digs in and gives it their all at the tug-of-war competition at Saturday's Hilltown Junior Olympics in Chesterfield. The 33rd annual event was attended by 150 athletes from six Hilltowns as well as friends, families and supporters.<br/>Below, clockwise starting from top left, Hannah Labrie of Goshen makes her way around the track; Sage Howes of Cummington competes in the shot put event; members of the Goshen team hold a town banner as they march onto the field; and Winston, the "Rufferee," keeps his eyes on the action from the sidelines.<br/>PHOTOS COURTESY OF BOB LABRIE

— Despite a slightly soggy beginning, the 33rd annual Hilltown Junior Olympics was well attended by 150 athletes from six Hilltowns along with hundreds of loyal fans.

This year’s event was held in Chesterfield on the fields of the New Hingham Elementary School.

“Yesterday we set up in the pouring rain,” Chesterfield team representative Janet Laroche said, “but it’s been a great lot of fun despite the weather.”

The traditional six-town event includes teams from Chesterfield, Cummington, Goshen, Plainfield, Windsor and Worthington. The location of the games alternates each year between the six towns.

As in years past, the opening ceremonies began with a parade of the junior Olympians proudly entering the playing field behind their town banners. The Hilltown Olympic torch was then carried in — at a run — by Meaghen Carey of Chesterfield, and the national anthem was sung by Worthington resident Carol Wrobleski.

When the games got under way, the 5- to 14-year-old athletes participated in both individual and team events. Individual events were comprised of races, shot put, broad jump, beanbag and horseshoe toss, while the team events were tug-of-war, a relay race and obstacle course.

All participants were awarded a medal for competing, and first-, second- and third-place medals were given out in the individual and team events.

The games are a significant part of the cultural fabric of the Hilltowns and they are attended and supported by a large number of devoted followers. As the event has now been around for more than 30 years, many of the parents of today’s young athletes were once competitors themselves.

“This is a great event,” said Karen Howes of Cummington as she watched the tug-of-war competition with her husband, Jerry. “We actually used to be in this when we were kids. So it is nice to have our daughter here to carry on the tradition,” she said of her 11-year old daughter, Sage.

As children, the couple lived in two different towns.

“We probably competed against each other and didn’t know it,” said Jerry Howes, laughing.

According to Laroche, 100 volunteers helped with this year’s event, many of them Hampshire Regional High School students, who earn credit for community service.

“This is awesome,” said Dee Calvert, a coach for the Windsor team said. “It was a misty, cold, raw morning when we started. It is impressive how many kids came out,” she said.

According to organizers of the games, however, participation has been dwindling over the years.

“We are really losing the amount of people who participate. When this first started there would be 100 kids per town. It is a real problem in Windsor. I think a lot of new people that move to the town aren’t familiar with the event,” Calvert said. Laroche said that other activities for young people are now more prevalent than in years past.

“These days we have to compete with other things, like soccer, football and ballet. So I am just happy that kids still show up,” Laroche said.

While the games may be smaller than they used to be, the enthusiasm from participants and their families and friends is still immense.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Bob Labrie of Goshen, whose daughter Hannah was on the Goshen team.

Some of this year’s athletes will not be returning to compete.

“This has been really fun. I’m just sad that this is the last year I will be able to participate,” said Haley Gould of Goshen, who has competed in the games since she was 5. She will be too old to compete in next year’s event.

Like others before her, Gould may still find a way to be involved by volunteering to keep the games going.

This year’s Junior Olympics was dedicated to Chesterfield resident Kim Dawson who died suddenly in July. Dawson had been a strong supporter of the event and had volunteered her services almost from its inception. As a parent and foster parent, Dawson had helped over 500 children through the years, including many who participated in the Hilltown Junior Olympics.

“You don’t have to be an athlete necessarily, there is a little bit of something for everyone,” Karen Howes said.

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