Sixth-grade student excels at running – an activity he shares in passion with his mother
Jonathan Gasper knows a lot about running. Not only is he active in the sport, but in his off time, homework beyond what he does for class as a sixth-grade student at Bellefonte Area Middle School, also means turning on his iPad to watch races and catch up on the running scene at Bellefonte Area School District, the NCAA level and beyond.
Claiming some of his favorite athletes are former Bellefonte Area High School runner Mitchell Smith and Cooper Teare, an American distance runner, he had the chance to race with Smith at the Jeremy Herbstritt and Lt. Jonas Martin Panik U.S. Navy Memorial Track for fun, and then met Teare in the summer at the Olympic track and field trials in Eugene, Oregon.
In January, Jonathan, who is involved with the Nittany Track and Field program, ran in his second indoor track meet at the Ocean Breeze Invitational on Staten Island, N.Y. where he finished second in the 11-12 age bracket in the 1500-meter race with a time of 5:05.47 minutes.
“When we returned home, I received an email from the invite that Jonathan's finish time earned him an invitation to compete in the New Balance Grand Prix indoor championships,” said his mom, Kim Gasper, who is also a runner and teacher at Bellefonte Area High School. The race is Feb. 6 in New York.
“The sport has given (us) so much I could probably write a book,” Kim Gasper said about the importance of the activity for her and her son. “Jonathan has ADHD and sharing the sport with him really just seemed (like) the natural thing to do. He has grown so much in confidence and knowledge of the sport. He is a true student of the game.”
Jonathan was just 3 years old when he ran his first mile in the Kid’s Marathon Mile in Pittsburgh. He then got involved in the Healthy Kids Running Series and continued until he was old enough to join Nittany Track and Field at age 7 – and now under direction of coach Jayson Jackson, who writes Jonathan’s annual workout plan and serves as an outlet to share daily running thoughts with. He also found a mentor in Chris Cipro when he was assigned as Jonathan's fifth-grade teacher at Marion-Walker Elementary School. Cipro is the State College Area High School distance coach with the track and field team, in addition to being a former college athlete at Penn State.
"I think connecting and building relationships with students is one of the most important things that you can do as a teacher, because I think it shows that you care about them and are interested in what they have to say and what they have going on in their life outside of school," Cipro said. "It is also a great way to figure out how the content that you are teaching can be related back to something that they may be interested in within their life."
According to its website, Nittany Track and Field is a youth athletic club in State College for kids until the age of 18, and has a mission to “promote athleticism, active lifestyle and social confidence for youth.”
Jonathan also raced in the Virginia Showcase in Virginia Beach, Va. where he competed in the 1,500-meter and 800-meter races. He ended with a first-place finish in the 1,500-meter with a time of 5:10 minutes, and ended in second place in the 800-meter with a run time of 2:37 minutes.
*By Brit Milazzo, public relations director, BASD