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Tiny Olympians compete in Wetherby Park

BY TAYLOR AXELSON | JULY 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Games in London are not the only Olympics happening. Competitions took place right here in Iowa City on Friday.

The athletes were just smaller.

Wetherby Park was the home of the javelin throw, screaming race, and shot-put, along with the many other activities that the Neighborhood Centers of Johnson County put together. Broadway, Pheasant Ridge, and Breckenridge neighborhood camps all met in one place for a fierce competition.

"Our sites are always separated and the theme of the Olympics is unity, and we wanted to do something similar for our campers. The kids have been asking everyday 'Is it Olympics day?'" Heidi Hunt, head of Pheasant Ridge, said. "We've been talking about what it means to be an Olympic athlete; talking about nutrition things like that. They were able to pick colors and the name of their countries. It's really exciting."

The kids have been preparing all week: They've made T-shirts and replicas of national flags from around the world, Hunt said.

A march of the "countries" was a long stream of little tie-dyed shirts all yelling the name of their country. After a competition of who could be the loudest team, all the campers sang the National Anthem, reading the lyrics off white note cards while a counselor held a small American flag above his head.

The campers had to make the Olympic Oath. This oath is the same that every Olympic athlete has made at the beginning of the actual Games. Each child put their hand over their heart as they all said the words in unison — "… I promise that we shall take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules which govern them… in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams."

"When they're young, to learn about teamwork and being a part of something bigger and being a part of the community is really important to instill in them and I think they really respond to working as a team," camp director Ryan Fisher said. "Whether it's through sport, school, or summer camp — or even their country at large."

The competitions that took place were just like those that will take place in London in the coming weeks. There were a few differences. Since javelins are dangerous, the kids threw pool noodles instead. And It didn't matter to the young athletes — most of them have never witnessed the real Olympics.

"A lot of these kids are six to eight years old, so four years ago, they weren't paying attention to the Games," Fisher said. "The 1996 Olympics was my first that I can remember and that was such a big thing to see all the countries come together and participate in sport. These kids are at the prime age to get excited about the Olympics."

The action continued with races. A runner sprinting with just their two legs would be too simple. There was a three-legged race, the screaming race; where the kids must run as far as they can in one scream, aiming for the longest distance, and the suitcase race; where one must dress up in the provided outfit, run to the other side and undress and give the clothes to the next in line. If anything, these feats are much more difficult than those in the Olympics.

"This is the only chance we get to bring all three neighborhoods together. Sometimes they will run into each other in the community, but the neighborhoods are far from each other," Shaeyla Shreck, head of Breckenridge, said. "I believe that kids always should be exposed to opportunities to build good self-confidence, group interactions, and social dynamics. This is a natural way of doing it."


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