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Athleticism runs in the veins of the Ackerman sisters.

The Livingston siblings are third generation track stars and second generation Big Sky State Games track medalists.

Brianna, Daedra and Audra Ackerman don’t have to look far for support and running tips. Both of their parents, Scott and Tammy, were track competitors who say being around the field is very natural. Tammy’s uncle went to college on a track scholarship and her stepfather, Gary Schneider, is a 1999 games national discus champion. The Ackermans credit Schneider with planting the seed for the girls to start competing at BSSG.

Brianna, 12, was the first of the girls to compete when she joined a relay team three years ago. Now Brianna has a batch of medals including golds in the 55- and 100-yard dashes, which she won in consecutive years. This year, Brianna won her age group in the 100. In the past, Brianna also competed in long jump, but this year the event was scheduled at the same time that she was playing basketball in the games.

Daedra, 10, is competing for the second year. She has won a bronze in the 55 and won her heat in the 100 Saturday.

Audra, 8, competed for the first time this weekend and clinched a silver in the 55-yard dash Saturday.

The Ackermans said Brianna has a natural talent for running, but she is shifting her focus to basketball – “her first love,” Tammy Ackerman said. Her girls all have “lofty goals” for themselves, she said, and as a parent it’s nice to let them go and have fun. It’s also a pleasure for both parents to see their children support each other, with the younger girls looking up to their sister and the older girls taking care of the younger.

The girls enjoy track, basketball, volleyball, softball and soccer. Livingston offers several city leagues, and both of the Ackermans have coached their girls in civic center sports.

“If it has to do with sports, they just dive in,” Scott Ackerman said.

That’s great for their parents who like to see their kids cross-train, especially in track, and experience many different types and levels of competition. It’s also time-consuming for their parents.

“Every parent here knows what it’s like,” Tammy Ackerman said. “It seems like we live in our vehicle, running and sitting and waiting, trying to fit errands and shopping in between. Children are just very active these days and that’s awesome.”

BSSG is a great venue for teaching sportsmanship, Scott Ackerman said.

“But that’s easier to say and harder to do,” he said.

Scott and Tammy Ackerman’s competitive edges come out watching the girls, to the point that Scott Ackerman admits to being “a little radical” when he’s watching the kids compete. Ackerman was a high school state track competitor in Illinois.

Work keeps the 42-year-old father from competing now, but he loves track, and Tammy Ackerman agreed that vicariously he runs every step with his daughters.

Parents and spectators aren’t allowed on the track or in-field at BSSG, but it’s hard to keep Scott Ackerman back. As his daughters were lining up, Ackerman casually stepped inside the fence and positioned himself, camera in hand, just beyond the finish line. Tammy Ackerman was posted near the starting line and grandma Karen Schneider was midway in the stands, cheering during the races and ready to offer consolation and assistance afterward.

This year Ackerman has worked on teaching the girls to run through the tape, pushing each step of the race and keeping their focus. Ackerman’s focus grew as the girls lined up for the starting gun. “Come on! Hard! Hard!” he yelled to each of the girls as they raced toward him. He started motioning with his arm, as though trying to pull them across the finish line, and yelled “All the way, All the way!” He quickly snapped finish line photos and called out “Good job!” as they run past him.

Golden grandpa Gary Schneider was a high school track and field standout who took about 37 years off before returning to throwing discus four years ago. Karen Schneider recalled that Gary read the BSSG discus record for his age group and said “I can beat that.”

 
  JOHN WARNER/Gazette staff
  Scott Ackerman walks with his daughter Brianna, 12, after she won the 100-meter dash Saturday.

“So I said ‘Why don’t you?’ ” Karen Schneider said. “Gary has always been an athlete and he’s worked really, really hard, especially the last year, to be a real competitor. It shows you can make a comeback if you have the drive and the determination and you want to. I support him 150 percent.”

Schneider competes in the masters division of track and field. After medaling at the BSSG, he was eligible for the 1999 State Games of America, where he won gold in discus. This year he will return to the State Games of America, an Olympicslike event every two years, with his three granddaughters in tow to compete.

The State Games of America, to be in St. Louis in early August, will be a real family affair with relatives from across the Midwest converging for a sort of family reunion while they cheer on Gary, Brianna, Daedra and Audra, Karen Schneider said.

Schneider said throwing the discus as become a “miniature focal point,” in which he trains and also works with a high school student.

“I have a concrete ring in the pasture,” Schneider said. “I chase the horses away so I can go throw. Once in a while I wing one off a rock and chip a discus.”

His granddaughters haven’t yet developed a high level of competitive intensity that Schneider called “killer instinct” that makes them really want to best their competitors, he said. But they all have speed and that instinct will develop.

Watching his granddaughters learn to deal with the emotions of competition has been a joy, Gary Schneider said. Their competition even effects his emotions.

“I think it’s more fun to watch them than to actually do it,” Schneider said of competing. “I admire them and their tremendous potential.”

So does their grandma Karen, who described herself as “the watcher” who holds down the bench for the family. Karen Schneider said BSSG is a great opportunity for the entire family to meet people and especially for the girls to build friendships. She also likes watching them learn to compete.

“It’s a learning program,” she said. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful feeling to see your grandkids participate and have them learn and grow.”

Becky Shay can be reached at 657-1231 or at bshay@billingsgazette.com.

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