Children from Precinct One’s youth programs joined Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis, Street Olympics officials and sponsors on June 7 for the official kick-off of the 31st annual Summer Games and the celebrated lighting of the Olympic flame.
An estimated 80 children from Precinct One’s Lincoln Park and Finnigan Youth Education Town (YET) were on hand for the festivities at Mickey Leland Memorial Park. They demonstrated five of the “street games” that youths will compete in this summer at 90 sites in Houston and Harris County.
They also gathered with Commissioner Ellis for the ceremonial lighting of the flame and helped him proclaim: “Let the Games begin!”
In explaining why the Summer Games are important, Commissioner Ellis told the audience he learned a lot about competition while tutoring football players when he attended Texas Southern University.
“I learned that competing in various sports teaches people a lot about life skills,” he said. “These Summer Games are about so much more than just Hula Hoop and learning to swim – this program helps teach you how to run the race of life. It really teaches you how to navigate through life.”
That’s exactly why the late Commissioner El Franco Lee founded the nonprofit Harris County Street Olympics in 1986 – to implement programs that provide training, support and resources that lead to healthy and productive lives. The original Street Olympics organizers used sports to engage youth during the long summer months.
Now, the free, year-round programs include the Harris County Aquatics Program that teaches youth how to swim, Discovery Camp/Traveling Naturalist Program that educates children on nature and the environment, and the Northeast Adolescent Program that has 10 clinics operated by Baylor College of Medicine for teens and young adults.
Commissioner Ellis praised his friend, Commissioner Lee, and told the audience he was committed to not only continuing, but building on the great success of the Street Olympics program.
The Summer Games consist of children competing in street games such as Hula Hoop, jacks, jump rope, foot races, football-accuracy toss and softball throw.
The preliminary competitions take place at youth centers.
The centers’ best athletes in each sport – which is grouped by age divisions – are invited to the Final Event on August 4 at NRG Arena, where some 2,000 youths will compete for “gold,” “silver” and “bronze” medals.
The Final Event also includes the Bright Futures Fair, a collection of booths that provide the children with information on health, education, safety, careers and other important topics.
“What we want to do with this program is to help you figure out how you can navigate to the top,” Commissioner Ellis told the children. “We want to teach you how you can compete to win in life.”
Diamond Politte, 12, who attends the YET, got that message after competing in the Summer Games for six years.
“I learned that even if you lose or win, it’s nothing to get mad about because you can try hard the next time,” she said.
DeAnte Brown, 12, who attends Lincoln Park’s summer program, said the Street Olympics program has taught him how to play as a team. “Work hard and play hard,” he added.
Victor Rojas, 10, who carried the torch along with fellow YET attendee Pene’lope Chevalier, 11, said his favorite sport is kickball. However, the biggest challenge he faced – being a torchbearer – is behind him.
“It was a lot of pressure because we were in front of a lot of people,” he said. “But it was really fun.”