Two nights a week they come, speeding around the ice rink with looks of determination on their small faces, and big dreams of Olympic gold medals in their heads.
Almost four months ago, these Compton teen-agers could not stand on ice skates, said one of their chaperons, Harold Fryer.
But now, because of the patience and dedication of their teachers, these same youngsters zip around the indoor ice track with confidence.
Their visions of Olympic medals were made possible through a grant from the Amateur Athletic Foundation. The foundation awarded $62,600 to a speed skating organization to teach underprivileged youths ages 18 and younger the art of speed skating.
The novices are members of the Compton Corps Community Center, a unit of the Salvation Army. About 70% of the children who attend come from single-parent families, said Capt. Tom Petersen, an ordained minister and officer in charge of the community center. In most cases, the children are reared by their mother or grandmother, he said.
Fryer, assistant program director at the center, described the teen-agers' neighborhood as gang territory, overrun with drugs and violence. A place where one would not walk alone at night.
"These kids are circled by drugs and gangs," Fryer said. "Skating is an outlet for them. We want to show them that there are good things out there, and we want them to be a part of them."
He said that sometimes when he brings the children back to Compton, they crouch in the van, fearing that their peers will tease them for being involved with the Salvation Army. Still, the dedicated ones come back each week.
About 60 children went to the Iceland skating rink in Paramount as novices when the program started in June, Fryer said. But, the group dwindled to 19 when the fun ended and the rigorous routines began.
The determination of the serious skaters showed on a recent Saturday night, when 12-year-old Tawyla Dunham suffered a nasty fall during practice while attempting a one-legged routine. After Fryer put an ice pack on her face and gave her a few minutes to recuperate, the sixth-grader was back on the ice for more training.
These die-hard skaters were recruited by Bob Nelson, president of the DeMorra Speed Skating Club. They train as novices with the club each Thursday and Saturday night.
One of the fastest Compton skaters, 15-year-old Duvell Howard, predicts he will win five gold medals in 1992, the same year he graduates from high school. The 4-foot, 6-inch 60-pounder whisks around the track with genuine ease.
Clarence Hayes, 13, said his goal is to become a speed demon. "A speed demon goes fast and passes everyone up," he said. "That's what I want to be."
Without funding, these Compton youths could not afford speed skating lessons. Usually, each training session costs about $20, but the foundation's donation offsets training and equipment costs for beginners. Fryer said that each skater pays only $1.50 per session.
The foundation was created by the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee after the 1984 Olympic Games. The games produced a surplus of $225 million, and 40% of it was turned over to the foundation to invest in organizations which create opportunities for young people in sports programs, said Steve Rutledge, the foundation's director of communication.
Priority for funds is based on programs that work to expand opportunities for low-income youngsters and the handicapped.
The foundation's board of directors meets four times a year and allocates these funds to support organizations dedicated to amateur sports. Only structured sports organizations that are open to amateurs are eligible for the grants.
Mary Wilkins, a novice coach for DeMorra, said that after the 1988 Winter Olympics, children packed ice-skating rinks, wanting to learn speed skating.
Smith said the novice program is an opportunity for children to develop talents in sports. It also gives them something to do and keeps them off the streets, she said.
But, the young Compton skaters summed it up best when they said that speed skating makes them feel good.
"I feel like a winner," said 15-year-old Marvin Pree.