Wednesday, August 04, 2004

CLEVELAND -- Those who parent or teach 12- to-15-year-olds know it's an age group that can be difficult to please. That said, everyone involved with the International Children's Games should consider the weekend miraculous, at least where Marion athletes are concerned.

Just about everyone was tired at Monday night's closing ceremonies, but just about everyone also seemed to be enjoying themselves. Marion athletes continued to mingle with athletes from other nations, and all had positive things to say about their trip.

"My favorite part was making new friends," said Gabi May, the goalie for the girls' soccer team. "I got a bunch of phone numbers from guys and girls, and I liked trying to learn the languages. I hope we can come back next year."

The 2005 International Children's Games are set for July 6-11 in Coventry, England. Several athletes and parents have expressed interest in making the trip.

In all, the athletes saw President George W. Bush; Olympians, Nadia Comaneci, Bart Conner and Dominique Moceanu (not to mention Marion Mayor Wayne Seybold); and musicians, Aaron Carter and Little Richard. They also earned a brief appearance on national television as ABC's Good Morning America filmed a short segment Monday from John Carroll University, site of most of the athletic events.

The royalty treatment didn't end Monday. The delegation returned to Sunnycrest Baptist Church at 11 a.m. Tuesday, and well-wishers and parents welcomed back the group.

It was hard to find more positive enthusiasm from anyone in the Marion group than Randy Holt. He served as Katie Cragun's gymnastics coach and had nothing but positive words for the event.

"I helped with the meets at the Pan American Games and the 1991 World Gymnastics Championships," Holt said. "This is my first time (in an international competition) as a coach, and the goose bumps still haven't gone away. To march in with a USA jacket and being a part of that is unbelievable."

Holt wasn't the only coach to enjoy himself. Two others received prized possessions while trading souvenirs with those from other nations. Boys' soccer coach Idowu Ikudabo exchanged his Marion cap with people from the Netherlands for a pair of wooden shoes. Track and field coach Terry Lakes received an Irish T-shirt, a prized possession to him since he ran during his younger years with some Irish competitors.

As the night drew to a close, medal winners were recognized at the Festival Village downtown. Athletes stayed and watched Grease while eating pizza and making some more connections.

With all the tangible items, celebrities met and competitive achievements, the cultural exchange was what most athletes chose to remember most fondly.

"The experience built with soccer, but we also respect other countries more," said girls' soccer player Lauren Meese. "They put as much hard work as we do, and not everyone has as good of a background as people in this country. Everyone had a blast." 

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