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THE YOUTH GAME HISTORY AND PROGRAM

The first Youth Games was in the summer of 1967 in New York City. This program created by former New York Mayor John V. Lindsay was designed to be a showcase for inner-city youth’s skills and an opportunity for these youth to test their skills against their peers from around America. Entering the 34th year the Games have touched the lives of millions and provided countless thrills and educational experiences for youth.

The first games began with New York, Washington D.C., Boston and Newark and have expanded over the years to include many American cities and sports. Active member cities now include: Atlanta, Birmingham, Boston, Baltimore, Columbia S. C., Los Angeles, Houston, Milwaukee, New Haven, New York, Newark, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Seattle and the Virgin Islands. Cities that have been involved include Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, San Antonio, Charlotte, New Orleans, Richmond, Oakland and East Orange N.J..

The initial sports of Basketball, Track and Swimming for boys and girls has grown to also include Coed Volleyball, Tennis, Bowling, Golf, Soccer, Baseball/Softball and Academic Bowl. These sports provide opportunities for boys and girls 15 and under to compete against their peers in an atmosphere reminiscent of the Olympics.

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Each Games begins with an opening ceremony and parade of cities with city flags. Competition among the cities is as intense as that between nations in the Olympics and fellowship between athletes also reflects these qualities of sportsmanship.

In the history of the games many famous athletes have come through the program. Basketball star from Boston Pat Ewing, Pam Schrieber tennis star from Baltimore, basketball star Kenny Anderson from New York, track star Bo Jackson from Birmingham and others are part of the All-Star history of the games. Many youth who graduate from the games have come back to volunteer and coach with their teams. Each city has its’ own heroes and history that make the Games an integral part of their city’s youth program. The competition is at a high level. No other program brings together this range of youth and sports in one site. The city teams represent the best and brightest of that city’s youth. It is important that they also be bright in that the youth in the Academic Bowl are also athletes competing in the sports. The Academic Bowl competition based on the old “College Bowl” program is an opportunity to highlight the importance of a sound mind with a sound body. Also during the games young people are exposed to the culture and educational sights of the host city. From a thrilling boat ride around Manhattan to a major league ball game in Atlanta, to the entertainment of “Destiny’s Child” singing group in Houston to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute the Games give more than competition...they provide inspiration and education.

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Over the years several companies such as Eastern Airlines, AMF, Coke and Reebok have been sponsors. Since 1992 there has been no national sponsor. Formerly (prior to 1992) there was a national office that spent most of the sponsor funds on its operation with little if any assistance to member cities and limited assistance to the host city. Since then member cities have kept the games going through their own efforts. Scotty Colson the Birmingham coordinator has been the National Director since 1992 on a volunteer basis and the organization has been incorporated as a 501-c-3 tax exempt organization. In 1999 the member cities decided to begin selectively approaching companies known for their wholesome, healthy commitment to youth so as to establish a better ongoing organization that will provide more efficient and effective leadership in promotion of the games and to provide greater assistance to future host cities.

The Youth Games program in each city is run by the sponsoring organization which are typically involved with the city’s youth and recreation programs either as a function of city government or as a non-profit organization. Try outs begin as school dismisses for the summer and continue until time to go to the host city in late July/early August. Publicity in the member cities is extensive as each city vies to attract its best young athletes to represent the city. City teams are featured in local media during try outs and the competition as the medal count is tallied. Member cities secure coaches and chaperones so that each team has usually a 6-1 or less child to adult ratio to insure supervision and training. Each member city is responsible for putting together its team and staff and travel to the host city which is responsible for food, housing, competition and programs.

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Athletes live on college campuses or hotels during the 5 days of the event. This creates an Olympic village type atmosphere wherein youth from around the country can enjoy each other’s company in a well supervised and chaperoned environment Competition is in local facilities in the host city. Venues such as Hofheinz Pavilion in Houston, the U.S. Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows and other famous gyms and stadiums have been used for the Youth Games. Young people are thrilled and honored to play in facilities that often host world class events and athletes. Inspirational speakers such as Julius Erving, Willie Mays, Willis Reed, Sen. Bill Bradley and Coach John Thompson and others are sponsored by the host cities to address the athletes. Educational tours and programs are arranged for teams to complement the competition and fun. The host city mayor opens the festivities and the mayors and councils of each member city provide their teams with honorary send offs and celebratory receptions.

In 2001 Birmingham Youth Game alumnus and 6 time Gold medal winner in Track; Vonnetta Jeffrey-Flowers was the key note speaker at the Awards Ceremony. In early 2002 Ms. Flowers became the first African-American woman to win a Gold medal at the winter Olympics when she was the “pusher” for the USA women’s dual bo-sled team. Ms. Flowers had been an All-American at UAB and attempted to make the Olympic track team twice ; only to foiled by untimely injuries. Ms. Flowers shows that a dream that began in Youth Games of Olympic glory can not be denied. Her inspirational story shows clearly to all youth participating in our program that dreams do come true with persistence, work and vision!

Awards are presented to Gold, Silver and Bronze teams in each sport and athletes are rewarded for their teams finish from 1-6 place in each sport. Each team is one half boys and one half girls and no athlete is over 15 years of age.

For thirty three years the Youth Game has been an important part of many cities and a tradition of excellence. The new century will hopefully bring a wider appreciation and awareness of this program and its purpose of highlighting our city’s kids. The pride of each community is its children and the Youth Games will continue to provide a showcase for this pride.

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