Youngsters compete in Little Olympics

        The  The Tahlequah Press  recently had an article about the "Little Olympics." How many of you remember the "Little Olympics"? 

       I remember when I was in grade school back in the 1950's, when Sequoyah still had grades 1 thru 12, we would compete in the "Little Olympics" held in Tahlequah.  I remember how we'd get excited about going to town and competing against all the other grade schools in Cherokee County.

       We would practice for the big day by getting down in the starting position and practice starting the races, then move to the high jump pit to see high and how far we could jump. We'd run laps around the football field to get ready for the longer races. I don't remember any coaching, just a bunch of us running barefoot in the cool clover that covered the football field in the spring. It was great, but every now and then someone would step on a honey bee and get stung. We'd run until we were tired then lay in the grass looking for a lucky 4 leaf clover.

        On the Saturday of the Olympics, Ms. Meigs would make us sack lunches for supper and we'd get on the school bus and be off to the races at Northeastern's football field.  There were kids from all the schools in the county and of course their parents were in the stands while we had Boys Adviser Tommy Thompson, our dorm matrons and a few school employees.  Some of the high school boys came along to keep us organized; with over 50 kids between 6 and 12, I'm sure we were a handful at times.

        We were divided into age groups and either chose our events or assignments were made by the big boys who were usually someone's older brother.  Because we grew up together, they were aware of who was faster or stronger or could throw the farthest.   We all got to participate and we ran heat races until only the best made the finals.

        We ran on the grass field instead of the real track because we ran barefoot.  The track had lanes marked and was 50 or 60 yards long, I seem to remember we had a race called the 60 yard dash.  We ran the relays back and forth rather than in a circle.  This would cause a few mix-ups during the change over when someone passed on the wrong side. I don't remember ever practicing the exchange before the Olympics; I think we were instructed on the sidelines before the races and of course we watched how the racers in the early heats made the exchanges.  I can't recall if we touched hands or used a baton. I think we used a baton in the older age groups.

        I remember the softball toss, chin-ups, push-ups, relay races, 60 and 100 yard dashes, the high jump, standing broad jump,  long jump, hop-skip-&-jump and of course the grand finale, the tug-of-war. Someone with a better memory will have to confirm the 3-legged and wheelbarrow races.

        It was a celebration, usually several events were happening at the same time and of course the kids not in the those events, were on the side lines doing the things grade school kids do.  It was one of the few times in grade school that instead of competing against each other, it was "us against them" and it made us feel closer and it didn't hurt that we usually won the team awards.

        The last event was the tug-of-war, single elimination with teams of 8 or 10 members.  Loud cheering with contests lasting several minutes gave us a real team feeling, which was a good way to end the evening. 

        We were awarded individual ribbons in each event, blue for 1st place, red for 2nd, white for 3rd; and by the end of the evening most of the kids had a ribbon and many had several.  I think small medals were awarded in some years.  I can't recall whether team trophies were awarded or not.

        The next morning at breakfast, you would see kids still wearing their ribbons.  Big brothers and sisters as proud as parents, of their little brother's success.

        Most of us were true charity cases; everything we had was provide by the government or donated by local charities.  Even after we stopped wearing identical coveralls, we wore basically the same thing, only in different colors because they bought dozens of each item in various colors and sizes.

        For some of us, winning a ribbon in the "Little Olympics" was the first time we had earned something as an individual, something to stand out in the crowd, something to make us proud.

I wonder whatever happened to those ribbons?  Does anyone still have theirs? 

        Without any personal storage space, very few mementos of our childhood have survived; we only have the memories.  Real mementos get tarnished, broken or lost, but we can relive our memories at anytime and share them with friends and loved ones. Sometimes those memories are better than mementos, because they get better as we get older.