The Junior Olympic Skills competition is something the U.S. Olympic Committee has been conducting with local youth athletic facilities around the country for years. Until this year, there was no Hernando County venue to host the competition.
That all changed when the Hernando County Family YMCA in Spring Hill organized a local event that included three sports: basketball, soccer and tennis.
The winners of these sports in three age groups for both boys and girls advanced to the regional round at the Forbes Recreation Center in Pinellas Park on May 17. The placers at the regional level will advance to the national competition, whose location and dates have yet to be announced.
"It's a large free event that we really are happy to be a part of now," event coordinator Amber Slusser said.
The most impressive accomplishments on the field came from Andrew Barrett, 11, and Synclair Jones, 13. Both advanced to the regional competition in all three sports, defeating some groups of skilled young athletes.
In the soccer event, Andrew stood out in the 10-11 age group by dribbling through an obstacle course of cones and scoring a goal in just 38.15 seconds.
Each youth was given designated spots from which to shoot.
Andrew, who has played organized soccer for two years, traveled with his mother, Michelle, to attend the day's festivities, and in the end, he was glad he did.
"It was cool because I don't normally play basketball or tennis," Andrew said. "The whole thing was just a real good experience for me, and I am so happy I did it."
Synclair also advanced in basketball by scoring six points in the 12-13 age division. Synclair and her sister, Temperance, walked away with first place wins in this sport. Temperance, 11, also had six points.
Tommy Barlock, 12, led all scorers in basketball with 16 points in the boys' 12-13 division. Basketball was only the tip of the iceberg, but with the success the 16 local participants had in the event, the most of any sport, Slusser thinks the competition has a future locally.
"The whole thing calls for them to compete against themselves individually instead of going against other kids," Slusser said. "While some were lucky enough to advance on to the next level, even the ones that didn't seemed to have a lot of fun."
Andrew continued his streak in tennis and basketball, where he was able to sink four points from the field in 45 seconds. On the tennis court, he returned six balls over the net in 30 seconds.
Synclair swept the three sports with a time of 33 seconds on the field and returning 12 balls on the hard court. Temperance also won the soccer event with a time of 43 seconds but came up short with the racquet in hand. The Jones family came from Brooksville for the experience.
The number of participants should grow, but Slusser was impressed with the mood of the day and how everything was carried out.
There may be a few changes because Slusser would "prefer to hold the three sporting events on separate days over the course of the week as opposed to all in one day. We could get more participation with a schedule like that."
Although the local field was limited in numbers, those who advanced believe they can be right there in the running with the youths from the other areas who will be at the regional level.
"I have just as much a chance," Tommy said. "I practice every day at the Y, so I think if I do my best, I'll have a good shot."
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