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Young and the restless compete

Blair Newcomb loves ballet, enjoys gymnastics and would like to earn an athletic scholarship some day. Judging from her performance at the Northside Christian School track meet Friday, the 10-year-old from Central Christian School is well on her way.

Blair finished first in the 50-yard dash and the 440-yard relay. If not for a bruised knee suffered in a preliminary heat, the fourth-grader might have taken her third first-place ribbon in the 100-yard dash. She had to settle for second.

The eighth edition of the track meet, hosted by Northside and featuring St. Petersburg, Community, Indian Rocks and Central Christian schools, was as much an exercise in eardrum resilience as an effort to promote athletics among pupils. Amid the clamor of screaming third-, fourth- and fifth-graders, old-fashioned athletics prevailed.

Despite the absence of her father, her athletic inspiration, Blair prevailed.

"I just want to be like Dad," she said. "He runs a lot and is always telling me about pushing myself. Dad's cool."

Having performed with the Dance Theatre of Florida last year, she draws a parallel: "Running is just like ballet. You have to work really hard, listen to your coaches very carefully and listen to your parents. Without their encouragement, it's hard."

Tricia Newcomb, Blair's mother, served as race day coach. "Her dad could not make it from work, but she still did her best," Mom said.

Jay Deltaan did not need much encouragement to pull off a victory in the 50-yard dash for fifth-grade boys. Just being there was enough for him.

"Yeah, (this) is fun, but I don't like school and this is a chance to get out of school," he said. "When I get running, I never think I'm going to lose, but all the yelling kids get on my nerves."

Another double winner in the 50-yard and 100-yard dashes, 9-year-old Jeremy Abillado, said: "Nobody ever beat me in a race before. In both races I just made a mad face and that helped me. Maybe the other kids saw my face."

Neill Holland knows a thing or two about faces. The 10-year-old is a starting left-handed pitcher for the North East Little League Yankees. He used his diamond wisdom to full advantage in the softball throw for fourth-graders.

"I'm a baseball player and I know that you can't throw the ball side arm, so I just adjusted," he said.

For meet organizer Daryl Mullholand, the feeling of excitement and the sight of the young athletes sprinting down the back stretch make it all worthwhile.

"We wanted to have a day when the kids who are good athletes could get a chance to show what they can do," he said. "Most of the kids at our school spend so much time in spelling bees and mathematics bees they don't get a chance to take part in an "athletic bee.'

"We seem to have been able to accomplish that over the last few years, and this year was no different."