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Valley youngsters take to the track in inaugural meet

April 15, 2002|By RICHARD MYERS

Sports Editor

"I'm going to San Diego."

"We're going to San Diego."

Shrieks of excitement echoed around the track at Southwest High School in El Centro on Saturday.

Winners at the inaugural Go For the Gold track and field meet have the opportunity to compete next month in another regional meet in Escondido. The meet was sponsored by 21st Century PACT (Promoting Achievement through Community Teamwork), an after-school program offered by both the El Centro Parks and Recreation Department and the El Centro Elementary School District. Twelve schools and more than 120 youngsters participated in the meet.

Desert Garden Elementary School's Mario Vasquez couldn't contain his glee as he talked with Norma Rodriguez at the scorer's table.

"We won the relay," Vasquez, 11, told Rodriguez. "We get to go to San Diego."

"They really get excited," Rodriguez said.

She noted in the past winners from the El Centro youth track meet competed at the next level in Poway but this year the meet will be in Escondido.


"El Centro usually does pretty good at the meet," said Pat Urena of El Centro Parks and Recreation, noting the Imperial Valley has been sending athletes to the meet for 18 years.

Even after the meet ended, Vasquez and several of his teammates were still talking about the San Diego meet and their qualifying effort.

"We wouldn't be going if it wasn't for me," Albert Newton said. "I won it for us."

Newton anchored Desert Garden's winning 400-meter relay team in the boys' 1990 Division. Ricky Smith ran first, followed by Vasquez, Hali Stevens and Newton.

Newton was particularly pleased with his effort.

"I ran with a sprained ankle," he said.

"We had the best time," Vasquez said. "We ran 1:54."

The way the four Desert Garden teammates viewed it, it was a banner day for their school.

"I also won the high jump," Newton said.

Stevens was second.

"My favorite event is the high jump, because it challenges you more," Newton, 11, said.

Smith, 11, won his division in the boys 200-meter dash. Newton was second.

Stevens, 12, was third in the 200 and third in the 100.

"I really like running," he said, citing the track events as his favorite.

Vasquez also placed third in the long jump.

Youngsters had the option of competing in one track event and two field events or two field events and one track event. Track events were the 50-, 100-, 200- and 400-, 800- and 1,600-meter runs, while field events were the softball throw, high jump and long jump. Not all events had competitors, however.

Athletes were divided into age categories based upon their year of birth. The youngest competitors were born in 1995 and the oldest in 1988.

Saturday's track and field meet is just one activity offered by 21st Century PACT, said project coordinator Jesus Perez. Eleven schools in the ECESD plus McCabe Union Elementary, a rural El Centro school, participated.

In addition to the track meet, the program offers several other sports activities, including basketball and volleyball. It offers other programs as well, including academic activities such as reading with math, as well as arts and crafts, music, martial arts and dance.

About 3,600 youngsters participate in the program from the ECESD, Perez said.

"Our objective is to provide enrichment programs, academic programs and athletic programs for youngsters," he said. "We're trying to provide more varied activities for students."

The youngsters who participated in the track meet had fun. And Urena was excited to see a spectators turn out.

"I'm happy to see a lot of the parents here, she said.

Parent involvement is so important, she said.

"It means a lot to the kids to see their parents here supporting them."

Medals and ribbons will be awarded to the top finishers at their respective school sites today. For more results, see Scoreboard.

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