The Western AA divisional track meet took place at Big Sky High School in Missoula this past weekend, and for two days, there was magic in the air over the Garden City.

After competing in college track and field for four years, I almost forgot about the unique, almost indescribable atmosphere of a high school meet — especially an important one.

I didn’t truly recognize that feeling until I started competing in college. At the collegiate level, the incentive to perform well is — at least partially — to earn scholarship money. And, in my opinion, once money is added to the mix, athletes change. The source of their motivation isn’t solely their love of the sport.

But in high school, athletes push themselves to the limit and put it all on the line for one reason: they love their sport, and they love to compete. That purity is what makes high school athletics so special, and it’s the reason why I would choose to watch a high school meet over a college meet any day.

If you had a chance to stop by the Big Sky High School track last Friday and Saturday, you might have had a chance to experience that feeling for yourself. I witnessed some pretty incredible performances — bars cleared by a hair, races won by a nose, records beaten by a fraction of a second.

There will be even more magic in the air at the state meet in Butte this weekend, and based on the talent I’ve seen so far this season, I would say there is a good chance that some Missoula athletes will return home as champions.

Brooke is a 2010 graduate of The University of Montana, where she ran track and cross country for the Grizzlies. She is currently working as a writer and editor in Missoula.