During the winter of her freshman year, Liberty's Brittany Arndt looked for a way to stay in shape until lacrosse started in the spring. She just couldn't decide on the right path.
A few of Arndt's friends surprised her with the suggestion that she should try indoor track. She didn't know a whole lot about the sport, but it seemed like a good idea. Arndt would be able to do plenty of running that would prepare her for lacrosse season.
The decision proved to be a smart one. Arndt quickly realized indoor track helped her in many ways, and she really liked it. Now a senior in her fourth year running during the winter, Arndt is glad she took up the sport. She helped the Liberty girls easily win the Class 2A state title last winter, running in several different events.
"I started running and started enjoying myself," Arndt said. "I got faster and faster. I enjoyed seeing myself improve, and it's been a lot of fun."
Indoor track does not have the popularity of outdoor track. A recent survey done by the National Federation of State High School Associations shows that, in terms of participation, outdoor track is actually the second-most popular sport in schools for both boys and girls -- behind only basketball in number of programs around the country.
Indoor track's not even in the top 10, according to the survey, but it has been slowly growing in popularity in Maryland in the past 10 to 15 years. For boys, a number of the top athletes typically would play football in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball or lacrosse in the spring. Girls also often participated in three different sports per school year.
In the past, indoor track was often overlooked, but more high school athletes are realizing the importance of staying in shape during the winter. Most athletes don't play three different sports, so they have time off during the winter. Many have realized indoor track is a way to stay in shape and not miss a beat during the long winter season as they prepare for spring sports.
"The whole point of track and field is to become faster, stronger and jump higher," Liberty coach Bobby Ward said. "The track and field coaches specialize in making the kids faster, stronger and [able to] jump higher, so there is no better offseason training program for them."
Hereford is another school that has benefited greatly from indoor track's increase in popularity in recent years.
The Bulls won their first state title last winter -- in Class 3A -- and coach Brad Duvall said they actually had 104 girls on their roster at the start of this season, the kind of depth that helps a team.
"A large portion of the [104 girls] are soccer or field hockey athletes in the fall and lacrosse and softball athletes in the spring," Duvall said. "Indoor track has become an attractive option here at Hereford for those athletes to stay active, get stronger and compete at a high level during the winter months."
The increase in popularity is also happening in other locations around the country. The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association published a survey that showed 18,071 athletes participated in indoor track in 2010-11, an increase of 22 percent from six years earlier.
Despite all of the positives, there's a flip side. Many athletes who come in for the winter and are successful don't come back for outdoor track in the spring because the indoor competition is just a way to fill their time while they're on a break from other sports.
Mike Sye, the Baltimore County coordinator of athletics, understands track and field since he coached it for five years. Sye and others also have noticed how not being to able to hold good athletes into the spring can be tough on coaches.
"It's kind of a double-edged sword," Sye said. "They come out. You want them to stay out, but then they go back to other sports."
Duvall said: "It always hurts in the spring when they return to the lacrosse or softball field."
Arndt is one of the players who'll return to another sport in the spring. However, that wound up being a difficult decision as her indoor track times kept improving. In fact, she did run outdoor track as a sophomore and junior.
This spring, though, Arndt is going back to lacrosse. She said all of her running during the winter with track can give her an advantage over others as the midfielder runs faster and longer and gains more endurance.
"For any athlete, if you run in the winter it [helps]," Arndt said. "If you do track, it helps your whole body stay in shape. If you're not in shape, you can get injured very easily. [Track] has helped me a lot."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun