With high expectations and a few glitches, Southeast Queens made history last weekend with the launch of its first-ever Junior Olympics.
Beginning with the opening ceremonies last Saturday in Jamaica’s Roy Wilkins Park and continuing through Saturday, July 27th, the Junior Olympics is bringing together hundreds of local young people to compete and show their pride in the community.
Organized by Allan Pope, president of the St. Albans Chamber of Commerce, along with Assemblyman William Scarborough and the Southern Queens Park Association, the Junior Olympics was the product of a simple breakfast meeting in early 2001.
“Allan Pope and I were having a breakfast to talk about economic development projects and he mentioned this dream that he had for years,” Scarborough said. “I said ‘Wow, that’s a great idea,’ and from there, we started to flesh out the idea.”
A year and a half of labor bore fruit on Saturday at the opening ceremony, which brought in hundreds of young people and parents and was kicked off by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott, a Southeast Queens native.
There were a few unexpected surprises in store, such as when the marching band never showed up.
But the parade went ahead anyway, with groups like the New York Naval Military Youth Cadets, Kickers Junior Soccer League and the Youth and Tennis League marching from Linden and Merrick Boulevards to Roy Wilkins Park.
Immediately afterward, the games began, with four competitions taking place at Roy Wilkins, St. Albans Park and York College in Jamaica.
“Everything went well, we had a nice turnout,” Scarborough said. “Murphy’s law was truly in effect, but the feedback was positive overall.”
About 1,750 young people between the ages of 6 and 18 have registered for competitions in basketball, track and field, baseball, tennis and soccer.
The motivation behind the parade, organizers said, is to provide a focus for young people, highlight their positive achievements as well as those of the coaches who put in long hours without pay.
“This is a lot more than just trying to keep the kids busy,” Pope said. “We are hoping to tie it into education, into college and build the community.”
The games also show kids that they have alternatives to drugs and crime.
“It’s a sad fact that when you read about the doings of young people, especially in our community, you hear about negative activity, but I don’t believe that is the norm,” Scarborough said. “We have more problems than we need to, but look at all the good, positive things these kids are doing.”
Along with a committee of nine volunteers, 10 coaches of local youth teams have donated their time to organizing the competitions.
Among them are local sports figures William Briggs, head of the Youth and Tennis League; Jackie Wilson, of the Laurelton Little League and William Brown of the Rosedale Sports Association.
Justice Allah is directing the martial arts competitions and Eric Barnett is overseeing basketball, while Fritz Casimir is heading up soccer, James Wilkenson and Nydia Warner are organizing the track and field events and Victoria Williams and Keith Delph are directing the swimming meets.
Several local merchants donated to make the Junior Olympics a reality, including Pathmark and Crunch USA. Coca-Cola is the major corporate sponsor and the National Basketball Association donated equipment.
Competitions are scheduled through the end of this week. On Thursday, Roy Wilkins Park will host tennis matches at 5 p.m. and basketball games at 7:30 p.m.
On Friday, Montebellier Park will host a girls’ soccer match at 6:30 p.m. and Roy Wilkins will be the site of basketball games at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, the last day, will include soccer matches at 10:30 a.m. and noon at Montebellier Park and track and field meets at Roy Wilkins Park. Swimming events will take place at Roy Wilkins Park, Liberty Pool and York College from 9 a.m. to noon.
At the closing ceremony, which will take place at 5 p.m. at Roy Wilkins Park, every child who participated will receive certificates, while the top three competitors in each event will receive their respective gold, silver and bronze medals.