Elementary schoolers from all around Loudon County gathered together at Lenoir City Middle School for the 24th running of the Robert Towns Invitational Track Meet.
The meet began in 1989 when Lenoir City Elementary School physical education teacher Robert Towns decided to organize a county-wide track meet.
"It started up at the little track behind Lenoir City Elementary School," Highland Park Elementary School principal David Clinton said. "At the time there were only about four or five elementary schools that were participating."
Towns passed away in 1995 and the Rotary Club of Loudon County took over running the event. As the meet grew, the Rotary Club handed the reins back to the schools while still helping the event run smoothly.
"We moved out from Lenoir City Elementary to the present track (at Lenoir City Middle School) when they built it," Clinton sad. "At that time you could only bring 12 boys and 12 girls. We've moved that up to 60, so you can bring 30 boys and 30 girls. Over the years we've modified the track meet, but we've kept the standard events about the same."
Lenoir City Elementary, Loudon Elementary, Steekee Elementary, Greenback School, Highland Park Elementary, Eaton Elementary, Philadelphia Elementary and North Middle were all represented at the meet, which allows children up to fifth grade to compete.
What Clinton said he believes is the most valuable part of the event is that it teachers the kids what it means to win and, more importantly, what it means to lose.
"It's one of the things during the year that everybody is not the winner," he said. "It's a situation where some of the kids, for the first time in their life, have had to try out. Everybody is not the winner. I think that is something that's good for the kids in the respect that they have to earn position."
For some the lesson of losing comes easier than it does for others. Many will learn the lesson before the meet itself, but for others it comes on the track.
"Through the years we've had some that it's hard for them to take and it's a good lesson for them," Clinton said. "We've only got 30 slots and you're out there along with the person standing on each side of you trying to get one of those 30 spots.
"A lot of times there's a lot of humble pie eating over there," he said. "You might be the king of your school, but when there's right at 500 kids it's a lot of different competition."
Clinton said he can only remember one student in the event's 24-year history winning multiple events at the meet over the span of multiple years, Lenoir City High School senior Jordan Hall. For most, it is a lesson in showing sportsmanship when you finish behind the leader.
The Robert Towns Invitational Track Meet is held every year on the first Thursday in May.