Over 100 elementary school-aged athletes recently participated in Weehawken’s 16th Annual Olympics at the Waterfront Complex on Port Imperial Boulevard.
Preliminary trials and qualification races took place in physical education classes at Daniel Webster and Theodore Roosevelt schools. The top track and field athletes in each grade, from both schools, were invited to compete in the finals. Girls and boys competed separately. Gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded to the top three finishers in the 100 meter dash, 200 yard run, long jump, high jump, discus, shot put, and the javelin.
Younger students participated in an obstacle course. The 400 meter relay and hurdles categories were omitted due to safety issues. When children reach the middle school level, they are no longer eligible for competition.
Robert “Rob” Ferullo, a longtime Weehawken resident, volunteered some of his spare time to coach young promising young athletes in baseball and basketball, and he served as moderator for the event.
“Some people thought that a little rain would keep participation numbers down, but that wasn’t the case at all,” he said. “Everyone who we expected to come out today is here and though we had to stop the running events for a short time due to weather, we were able to get right back on the track after the rain let up.”
Participants often see a lot of the same competitors in each category year after year, but once in a while newcomers emerge on the scene, capturing medals and the true spirit of competition. Danielle Whelan, sixth grade student at Roosevelt School, said she didn’t mind the drizzle. She took home medals in the long jump and the 200 meter dash. In addition she and every other athlete received a participation medal, a symbol of their hard work.
“I like sports and hanging out with my friends,” she said. “The rain’s not bothering me.”
Competitors chosen from gym classes
The township’s Department of Recreation oversees logistical planning and strategic operations. Lists of winners from the preliminaries are compiled and names of scheduled participants are given to Stevens Institute of Technology volunteers, who coordinate on-site activities on the day of the event.
In order to remove any doubt deciding the winner of a tight race, volunteers used a photo finish app installed on their iPads which quelled insinuations and narrowed the margin of error. If a visual determination of who would be standing on the winner’s podium was needed, the iPads were viewed by race officials. Computer-generated proof was shown to skeptical participants and curious parents.
Three local officials helped congratulate athletes and pass out victory medals all day long.
“We all look forward to this event every year and it’s really growing in popularity. Just look around… It’s packed in the park today,” said 1st Ward Councilwoman Carmela Silvestri-Ehret .
“I like seeing how much these kids love this event. It’s so apparent. They work so hard all day and they all deserve congratulations,” said 2nd Ward Councilwoman Rosemary Lavagnino.
Ariana Guevara, a sixth grader at Roosevelt School, worked up an appetite after winning the bronze medal in the discus. Natalie Cancio, who suffered a sprained wrist after falling near the 100-yard dash finish line, won the silver medal and Zionna Loftin won the gold medal in this event and in five others: the 100 yard dash, long jump, high jump, shot put, and javelin.
A classmate of Guevara’s, Loftin didn’t fancy the concept of competing against her close friends.
“I like talking with my friends in between the races, but competing against them gets awkward – especially since we all want the best for each other,” she said. “We laugh and relax when we have some downtime. And I looked forward to defending my titles. Some years I did better than others, but I’m really happy today, because I’ve never won 1st place in every event I entered. I thank God for letting me be healthy, because one year I broke a finger in a tree-climbing accident right before the Olympics and another year I was recovering from pneumonia. This year was special, because it is my last time being at the games.”
Friends racing against friends
Camila Streuly, close friends and classmates of Guevara and Loftin, also found competing against girls she admires challenging. But she claimed the silver medal victory in the javelin.
“A lot of us have been friends for a long time and we know each other’s strengths,” she said. “We are in class together and we play team sports together, but we still have to do our best no matter what,” she said.
Topping one’s personal best results has been a major focus in this competition since its inception and the talent pool is constantly improving.
Costes Lerner, third grade silver medalist in the shot put, and Derek Mejia, gold medalist in the 200-meter run, both see the Olympic Games as an opportunity to mingle with friends outside of their own class. Kenny Delgado, sixth grade discus winner concurred. “We race against friendly rivals but it’s all in fun.”
“This event is good for the kids,” Ferullo said. “I’ve been watching them grow up over the years and I’m proud to see how tall they’ve gotten and how much faster they can run.”
Fifth grader Morgan Tomlinson was the gold medal winner in the javelin. She had the opportunity to interact with team mates from the plethora of recreational and all-star level sports she plays.
“I’m having fun,” she said.