Braden Burk is State Champion in Hershey Games; advances to Nationals


Braden Burk, who will be in the seventh grade this fall at Switzerland County Middle School, will compete in the North American Finals of the Hershey Games being held in Hershey, Pennsylvania on July 31st through August 4th.

Braden will be one of only five athletes from the entire state of Indiana to compete in the games, which each year features the best young track athletes in the U.S., Canada, and as far away as China. He will be competing in the 800-meter run at the finals, having won the event at both the local and state levels.

“We’re really excited,” mother Lisa Burk said. “He really worked hard and we are very proud of him. It’s quite an honor to represent all of Indiana.”

Braden Burk competed in the Hershey Games for the second straight year, and last year he was among the top qualifiers in the 800-meter run, but his time wasn’t strong enough to earn an invitation to the Nationals.

This year was different.

The “local” meet that Braden Burk first competed in was held at Cripus Attucks High School in Indianapolis on Wednesday, June 18th.

The meet involved runners from the local area around the school, as well as the Indianapolis area. Braden’s uncle, Keith Minch, got Braden involved in the games last year when the local event was held in Carmel, Indiana; but before driving to Indianapolis, some calls were made to the event organizers.

“Keith lives in the Indianapolis area, but we obviously don’t,” Lisa Burk said. “We called to ask if it was all right for Braden to come and run, since we didn’t have a local meet anywhere around us, and they said that it was fine – so we went.”

Braden Burk won the local race, which qualified him to run in the State Meet, which was held in Muncie, Indiana, on Saturday, June 28th.

But just where in Muncie was a big question.

“We got paperwork that said that the meet would be held at Muncie Central High School, which is where it was last year,” Lisa Burk said. “But when we got there, the parking lot was empty.”

“It had been raining, so we thought maybe they had canceled it,” Braden Burk said. “Mom called the people who were in charge, and they said that it had been moved to Muncie South High School instead.”

“We went over there 30 minutes before the race started,” Lisa Burk laughed. “It was quite a day.”

The meet normally involves a lot of pageantry and opening ceremonies, but with ominous weather hanging over the area, organizers moved the meet along quickly in order to get all of the events in.

Runners participating in the state meet came from big cities like Muncie, Fort Wayne, Lafayette, and Terre Haute – but in the end the organizers crowned Braden Burk of Switzerland County as the State Champion in the 800-meter run.

And he certainly made a statement in the meet; winning with a time of 2:32.07 – more than 16-seconds ahead of the second place runner.

Now with the State Championship firmly in hand, all Braden Burk had to do was wait to see if his time was good enough to advance to the Nationals.

The Hershey Games involve track meets in eight different regions across the country, as well as regions that include Canadian Provinces and the Far West Region that includes athletes from China.

The National selection committee takes the eight best runners for the National competition, regardless of region – so some regions may not see their state champion advance to the nationals. National qualifiers have all of their expenses paid to and from the event.

Here in Indiana, only five State Champions made the cut: four boys and one girl.

And Braden Burk is one of those five.

He will now go to Indianapolis on Wednesday, July 30th, and check into a hotel with the rest of his Indiana teammates. From there it’s up very early on Thursday morning for a flight to Hershey, Pennsylvania.

That in itself is one of Braden Burk’s most anticipated moments, because he’s never flown before.

“I’m really excited about flying,” Braden Burk said.

Lisa Burk said that the event organizers have very strict guidelines involving the athletes – so strict, in fact, that once she leaves him at the Indianapolis hotel, she won’t be able to see him again until after his event is completed at the Nationals.

But that’s in part because the athletes are kept on a tight schedule, and are busy making appearances and sightseeing up until their event.

And the event will be star-studded, and will include many American Olympic heroes, who will speak to the athletes and spend time with them talking about their lives on and off of the track.

Olympians scheduled to be at the Nationals include: Bruce Jenner, Michael Johnson, Rafer Johnson, and Carl Lewis.

“I can’t wait to meet Carl Lewis,” Braden Burk said. “I’m getting new track shoes, and they’re going to be shiny on the toes. I’m going to have him autograph “Carl” on one toe and “Lewis” on the other. I’m really excited to meet all of those guys.”

Once the team arrives in Hershey on Thursday, they will check into rooms at Elizabethtown College. From there the athletes will have a full day of activities, and will have their first chance to meet the Olympians.

On Friday there will be regional team photos, followed by a workout on the track. From there the athletes will tour the Hershey Chocolate plant, the “HersheyPark” entertainment complex; and Hershey’s “World of Chocolate”.

On Saturday all of the outside fun stops and the serious events begin, starting with the official opening ceremonies. Those will be followed by the North American Finals; and once the events are concluded, everyone will participate in a celebration; followed by a dance and other activities.

All of the athletes begin returning home on Sunday, August 3rd.

Although they won’t be able to spend time with him prior to his race, Braden Burk’s family is making the drive to support Switzerland County’s State Champion at the national level.

Parents Brad and Lisa Burk, along with big brother Bradlee will be driving to Hershey, and other family members are also planning on making the trip.

If the thought of participating at such a high level might intimidate some athletes – Braden Burk certainly isn’t one of them.

He’s been a valued member of the middle school cross country and track teams even before he got to middle school; so running against stiff competition is something that he’s grown up with.

“I don’t think I’ll be nervous,” Braden Burk says. “I think it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to flying and meeting the Olympians the most. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to go and compete.”