Paige Freeworth, 9, of Conneaut Elementary, holds up a G, which is her team's letter, to cheers.
BOWLING GREEN -- Aleah Logan was going to run again, she announced as she kicked away from a wall covered in alternating orange and white pads.
Aleah, a fifth grader at Perrysburg's Woodland Elementary School, was one of 530 children -- all fourth and fifth graders who live or go to school in Wood County -- to participate in the annual Wood County Youth Olympics.
"I love it," she said of the event.
"I can be myself. And it's not even about competition. It's about having fun."
The games, hosted by the county prosecutor's office since 1999, feature 10 events.
A crowd favorite on Saturday morning, based on the opinions and volume of cheering, was the obstacle course, a 100-yard challenge that had the boys and girls crawl, jump, slide, and sprint toward a finish line at the Bowling Green State University Perry Field House.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, a University of Toledo alumnus, congratulates Hannah Smoyer of Haskins Elementary School during the Wood County Youth Olympics at Bowling Green State University's Perry Field House.
"I like the running part," said Madelyn Schramko, a fifth grader from Elmwood Middle School in Bloomdale who also participated last year.
"The obstacle course is really, really easy," chimed in Aryanna Carpenter, a fifth grader at Perrysburg's Woodland Elementary School.
The games aim to teach children it's possible to compete without introducing violence, said Paul Dobson, Wood County prosecutor.
"The objective of my office is to be reactive," he said of his day-to-day work. "Events like this allow us to be proactive."
The event's $6,000 to $8,000 budget is entirely funded by local donors, Mr. Dobson said.
Teaghen Morris, a fifth grader at Bowling Green's Crim Elementary School, said competing with people she didn't know let her make new friends.
When the teams are formed, organizers group students who are unlikely to know each other.
"This is my favorite day of the year," Mr. Dobson said. "Seeing them competing and doing their best is great."
Duncan Odneal, a fifth grade student from Glenwood Elementary in Perrysburg Township, said he was having fun during his first year participating in the program, which he learned about during a school assembly.
Swaying him to come wasn't hard, especially once he learned that a National Football League player would attend the event.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Bruce Gradkowski gave an "I'm just going to wing it," speech to children at the morning session.
The University of Toledo alumnus pointed at one child and said "I can't compete with you. I saw you; you were going fast through those cones."
Mr. Gradkowski said later that he wanted to try one of the events, but after watching the fierce competition and talent, he was afraid to embarrass himself.
As the boys and girls sat listening, the Cincinnati quarterback stressed the importance of having fun, but also how they should take their schoolwork seriously.
Runner Dale Domer, 10, is welcomed to the finish line for the obstacle course at the Wood County Youth Olympics by Nate Fisher, left, and team leader Brian Laux. Teams are formed with students who are unlikely to know each other before the day's events.
"If I hadn't," he said, "I couldn't be in the NFL."
He told them that, when he was in fourth grade, his teacher asked the class to write down on an index card what they wanted to do when they grew up. He wrote that he'd like to play professional football.
"Whatever you want to be when you grow up, you can," Mr. Gradkowski told the children to cheers and applause. "I want you to have big dreams."
His teacher still has the card, and the two joke about it, he said.
Madelyn, who participated in the games last year, was disappointed this would be her last time.
"If I could come again, I would," she said.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6054, or on Twitter @tdungjen_Blade
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