SYCAMORE – Hosting a day of sports to celebrate the ideals of the Olympic movement is relatively easy for the Kishwaukee Family YMCA in Sycamore.
“Our core values at the Y are caring, honesty, respect and responsibility, and the values that the Olympic athletes have with sportsmanship and teamwork go right along with it,” said Katrina Luetkebuenger, the organization’s associate executive director.
On Friday, 12 YMCA counselors led 150 kids through five events that were designed to foster friendly competition, teamwork and excitement. The children leaped as far as they could in the long jump, ran as fast as they could in the lap run and threw as far as they could in the noodle javelin toss.
But the kids also worked together, frantically passing a sponge back and forth in an effort to fill a bucket with water. They also had to move carefully as a team to transport a bucket full of rubber balls using a parachute across a field. If the bucket tipped over, they had to set the parachute down and fix it.
Matt Miller, a Northern Illinois University student interning at the YMCA, designed and coordinated all of Friday’s events.
“In the Olympic games it’s not about money, ... In a lot of different sports like football and baseball, those people are working toward their own careers individually and for just their team,” Miller said. “But in the Olympics you’re representing your entire country, and we wanted to be able to represent that here in the Y.”
The kids were divided into six countries: the Netherlands, Iceland, France, Jamaica, Norway and Great Britain.
Luetkebuenger said countries such the United States, Russia, China and Japan were barred from being picked by the kids because, when the 2012 Olympic Games begin on July 27, the kids can earn points depending on how their country does in the real games. The kids on a U.S. team would see a landslide of points; in 2008, the United States won 110 medals overall.
And also like the Olympics, there were medals. Before Friday’s game, each child made a cardboard medal that was given to another kid. On each medal was a positive trait about the kid; some read, “You are very nice,” while another read, “You have good behavior.”
While they made up six countries, the children were divided into five groups. In each of those five groups, a child was awarded for the fastest lap time and the farthest long jump, but whoever was the most supportive teammate and whoever showed the best effort also were awarded.
Before they began, the kids and counselors listened to speeches from DeKalb Mayor Kris Povlsen and Connie Teaberry, NIU women’s track and field coach.
Teaberry participated in the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta for the United States, tying for 15th place in the high jump.
Teaberry talked to the children about how tearing a ligament in her knee in high school cemented her athletic resolve.
“It made me more aware that hard work is important in anything you do,” Teaberry said.
Some of the kids present for the games took the message to heart.
“You should try hard and do your best and never give up,” said Nadia Timm, a fifth-grader who was on Team Norway.
Friday’s games in Sycamore were part of activities the U.S. Olympic Committee helps set up nationwide. Today is International Olympic Day, which is celebrated in 160 countries worldwide.