It will be cold during Thursday’s 9th Annual Reindeer Games indoor track meet. Amanda Simoncic will not notice.
The giving spirit that envelopes G.M. Tennant Stadium every year during the event sweeps away any chill from Simoncic, who pitched the idea nine years ago for the meet, which combines indoor track competition with a food drive for Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry. The 2017 version will begin Thursday at 4 p.m., with nearly 700 athletes expected to compete.
“People come to support from Polk County and from all across Western North Carolina, and I always get emotional when I see our students and each team and their fans come through the gate with armloads of goods for our town,” said Simoncic, who coaches Polk County’s throwers. “Also seeing what our own students do here at PCHS warms my heart.
“(English teacher Angie) McCammon has been so helpful at coordinating the school food drive each year for us. We wouldn’t have nearly as much to give to Outreach without her help with the school’s can drive. It’s definitely a night to witness so much goodness in this world when all we seem to ever see is the negative on the news.”
Spectators will be charged an “entry fee” of one can to attend the event, with athletes also allowed to submit a can as their entry fee. All cans of food will be donated to TBOM, with the meet typically generating a collection of more than 3,000 cans, always needed to keep the food bank full during the winter months.
Simoncic can typically be found in the midst of the can collection area, helping total the year’s donations.
“When this all began, I wasn’t sure how it would be accepted by everyone. But I had hope it would be the beginning of a tradition, something that would last forever,” she said. “It appears that it has definitely become something for PCHS and all of WNC’s track athletes to continue.
“Each year, everyone surprises me again, even more than the last year, with the outpouring of support from our community and each community that brings a team. Our local business sponsors also amaze me each year with their support for the kids and Outreach. The students, athletes, coaches, parents and sponsors are what has made this such a success. I am forever grateful for each one of them.”
Some 20 teams are expected to compete in the meet, which will also include fun events such as a relay race for throwers. Polk County head coach Alan Peoples traditionally dons a full Santa Claus suit, and antlers and other holiday wear are staples of the event.
Polk County’s girls and boys teams have burst out of the game this season with a bevy of impressive performances and could be a factor in the team competition, especially on the boys’ side. But the title that the Wolverines most want to win is that of bringing the most cans, a competition they’ve never lost since the Games began.
A day already special will be even more so this year for Simoncic as her son, Michael, will compete for the first time, running in the 55-meter dash.
“He had been throwing shot, but due to two previously broken wrists still causing some issues, he’s having some struggles continuing there,” Simoncic said. “Of course, id love to see him in the shot put pit throwing ,but that just isn’t in the cards for him this season, so I’m just as happy that I can see him run.
“It’s very special to have him on the team. For almost 14 years, he was at our events helping out and watching as our mascot and now he is competing as a Wolverine. It’s great. I’m excited to see him finally get to wear the blue and white.”