Polk County's Lauren Dotson eyes the final line during Wednesday's 55-meter hurdles competition

Reindeer Games again brings competition, food drive to holiday season

Amanda Simoncic watched Wednesday with a large smile as the Christmas-tinged chaos of the 12th annual Reindeer Games unfolded around her.

It had been almost two years since Polk County’s last Reindeer, the track and field program’s annual meet that also serves as a food drive for Outreach, which serves Polk County families and individuals that need assistance with day-to-day necessities such as food, heat and housing. The COVID-19 pandemic canceled the 2020 Games, just as it did the entire indoor track and field season.

It had been since December 2017, though, that the Reindeer actually took place before Christmas, with poor weather delaying both the 2018 and 2019 events until the following January.

So seeing G.M. Tennant Stadium again filled with holiday decorations and hats and shirts – before Christmas – brought that smile to the face of Simoncic, who first proposed the idea of using a holiday meet to also help feed those in need. Watching bag after bag of canned food items arriving as donations made her smile that much wider and brighter.

“It’s really nice to be back at it, to see so many people here, to see their faces and to see so much excitement about being here,” Simoncic said.

West Henderson’s girls and T.C. Roberson’s boys won the team competitions, with athletes from 13 schools competing in the largest meet at Polk since prior to the pandemic. There were 84 runners who competed in just the boys and girls 55-meter dashes, with similarly large fields in many events making for a meet that stretched well into the evening.

Polk County’s boys placed fourth in the team standings, with the Wolverine girls earning sixth. Polk’s Sophia Overholt won the long jump, with older sister Olivia Overholt winning the 500-meter run in a state meet-qualifying time of 1:24.20. The two were also part of Polk’s 4×800-meter relay team that bettered the qualifying time for February’s state 1A/2A meet while placing second.

Wolverine senior Braxton Edwards won the 1000-meter run in 2:45.20, also a state qualifying effort, with Steven Chupp winning the triple jump and Polk’s 4×400-meter relay team also victorious.

Polk County, as usual, won the competition within the competition, contributing the most canned food items. That drive produced the evening’s real victor, with Simoncic and Polk County head coach Alan Peoples noting that almost 3,500 items were donated, with perhaps more to come on Thursday.

And that is the real success story of the 12th annual Reindeer Games.

“It’s great to see people come out and to see everyone so excited,” Simoncic said. “It’s like an early Christmas present.”

Cade Bright takes a handoff from Te’Sun Miller to start the second leg of the 4×800-meter relay