While athletes worldwide are gearing up for the Rio Olympics, young men in the Valley just completed their own summer games that celebrated both their academic and athletic abilities.
Valley Teen Ranch and Keeping Youth Journeying Onward co-hosted the seventh annual summer games on Monday through Friday. The week-long games closed with an awards ceremony and barbecue Friday morning. Forty-five teens competed in a wide variety of events that showcased their achievements on the field and in the classroom despite rough upbringings.
“It’s quite phenomenal to see the changes in their young lives,” said Connie Clendenan, CEO of Valley Teen Ranch. “The things they most learned are sportsmanship, teamwork and perseverance.”
She said the games have academic and athletic portions, so everyone can contribute in the ways they are most gifted.
For sports, they competed in events like flag football, basketball, soccer, track and swimming, played tug of war, lifted weights, and played games like dominoes, checkers and billiards.
For academics, they wrote an essay and a poem with the prompt “Where do you see yourself in the next five years.”
Clendenan was struck by the realism and the thought the teens put into their pieces.
One boy said that in five years he sees himself in the military, either as a military lawyer or chef, because he thinks the military is a good outlet for him and he wants his family to benefit.
Another said that “growing up in my neighborhood was a constant struggle. So all I wanted to do was find an easy hustle. But money wasn’t key for me. I got my happiness and joy from seeing other people happy.”
The writer said he wants to impact other people’s lives. To achieve that, he aspires to work in a hospital with young kids because he understands the challenges of fitting in at that age.
“Most people would not consider them to have hopes, and goals and dreams like this,” Clendenan said. “We see a whole different side of them when we do this event.”
She said the greatest challenge isn’t for staff to view the young men as more than thugs, criminals and gang members – it’s getting the teens themselves to look beyond those stereotypes about themselves.