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Inner-City Youths Go for the Gold


A star-spangled spectacular launched Los Angeles' third annual Inner-City Games at the Shrine Auditorium on Sunday, but for many young participants, the excitement will always be . . . competition.

Members of the Mt. Carmel Recreation Center's basketball team, Rodmond Middleton and his teammates, Ron Sierra and Lester Hill, say organized events like the games give young people an alternative to the streets and gangs.

"We all feel it's good," said Middleton. "We're not out in the streets and it keeps us out of trouble."

Sponsored by the Hollenbeck Youth Center and founded by the center's director, Danny Hernandez, the Olympic-style games invite the city's elementary- to high school-aged students to compete in a wide variety of sports.

More than 120,000 young athletes, girls and boys, will spend the next eight days competing in baseball, gymnastics, swimming, weightlifting, volleyball and other events at high school playgrounds, parks and university athletic fields.

It's about character as well as competition. In the 3-on-3 basketball competition, players are responsible for calling their own fouls, Middleton said. Cooperation among teammates and opponents is important, Sierra said. Even the player waiting his turn on the bench is important.

"When we're on the court, the fourth guy, he pumps us up," Sierra said. "He's like an announcer."

"He's like Chick Hearn," said Middleton, laughing.

It's this teamwork and sense of community that organizers hope the young people will adopt, said one celebrity sponsor, Olympian Bruce Jenner.

Jenner was among more than a score of sports, entertainment and political celebrities who attended Sunday's opening ceremony with Mayor Richard Riordan and Muhammad Ali.

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