BOWLING GREEN - Once a year, the Wood County Prosecutor's Office trades in its legal briefs for gym shorts and invites fourth and fifth graders to take part in a youth olympics.
The games, intended to promote competition without conflict, are divided into two sessions that open with registration at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday at the Perry Field House at Bowling Green State University.
Five hundred students signed up to participate, and 100 more are on a waiting list, said County Prosecutor Ray Fischer. In its seventh year, the competition is open to all fourth and fifth graders from Wood County, including home schoolers.
Mr. Fischer said the event is one of several programs his office runs to try to keep kids out of the court system.
"Why should the prosecutor do this?" he said. "It's to do positive things before juveniles get in trouble."
The first youth olympics was held in 1999 under then-Prosecutor Alan Mayberry, who is now a Wood County Common Pleas Court judge.
"We thought it was something we could do to maybe be ahead of the curve on the increase in juvenile crime we were seeing," Judge Mayberry said. "It also seemed to be a good way for kids in one school district to get to know kids in another school district in a friendly way where they could work together on a team and hopefully when they got to be teenagers would not think everyone from 'that' school was a certain way."
Participants are placed on teams with kids from other schools. Of the 10 events, six are team sports, but not all rely on athletic prowess.
Valerie Linkey, director of youth services and programs for the prosecutor's office, said the events range from the traditional standing long jump and obstacle course to the not-so olympic quiz bowl and a puzzle relay in which team members answer questions to win giant puzzle pieces then work as a team to put together the jigsaw in record time.
Ms. Linkey said organizers wanted the competition to appeal to students of all abilities, not just athletes.
Wood County Juvenile Court Judge David Woessner, who volunteers at the olympics, said he thinks it does.
"It's just a great opportunity to see a lot of young people and their families participating without a great deal of competition and just having fun," he said, adding, "I really enjoy it. I'm the self proclaimed ping pong toss judge."
In that event, kids stand at a line and throw ping pong balls into a basket to see who can score the most baskets in a limited time period.
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