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Everyone’s a winner at La Jolla Kiwanis Junior Olympics

More than 500 La Jolla elementary school students will vie in track and field events at the 16th annual La Jolla Kiwanis Club-sponsored Junior Olympics on Saturday, May 19 from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Edwards Stadium at La Jolla High School, 750 Nautilus St.

This year, two new private schools - Stella Maris Academy and The Evans School - will join students from the Gillispie School and Bird Rock, La Jolla and Torrey Pines elementary schools to compete softball throw, obstacle course, broad jump and track events.

Events are open to students ages 5 to12 who attend any of the six elementary schools. Ribbons are awarded to each participant for each event in which they compete.

Check-in starts at 7:15 a.m. with the event starting promptly at 8:30 a.m.

There is a Fastest Boys relay team race and a Fastest Girls relay team race with one team of four members from each of the participating schools. The event will conclude with Fastest Boy in La Jolla and a Fastest Girl in La Jolla races. A SPIRIT Award trophy is awarded to the school with the highest percentage of their student body participating.

Besides a ribbon presented to each participant for each event they enter, a trophy is presented to the winners of each athletic contest. Just like their adult adult Olympic counterparts, the three first-place winners in each competition are presented with gold, silver and bronze medals on a reviewing stand. Best of all, medals are draped around winners’ necks by their school principals.

Student Olympians parade to the reviewing stand atop a red-carpeted podium amid full fanfare and music. Each winner’s name, school and event they competed in are announced in the different medal categories for the top three finishers of each heat.

Organizers of the event the past several years have been La Jolla Kiwanian Carl Volinski and his wife Jeanine of La Jolla Insurance Services.

Jeanine Volinski said is been an honor and a privilege to be involved with the event each year. “It’s a blast,” she said. “It’s indescribable.”

Last year was the first year Kiwanis had three photographers taking pictures of participants. “I got to look at 800 photos of kids’ expressions, the joy is just unbelievable, how much fun they have and how much they enjoy it,” Jeanine Volinski said.

The event was started by Richard “Moon” Mullen, a past La Jolla Kiwanis president, in 1992. Mullen got the idea for the youth olympics from observing a similar, family-oriented athletic celebration while on leave with the Navy years ago in Japan. While hiking up an island trail to a volcano, Mullen came upon a small community, Sasebo, with all the villagers down in a valley involved in some activity. Looking closer, he realized they were running track and relay races, with families competing against one another including parents, grandparents and their children, right down to the youngest child.

The Kiwanis Club of La Jolla pays for the event through money raised from various fund-raisers, most notably the La Jolla Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast in July and the La Jolla Half Marathon in April. The Junior Olympics also has the support of the La Jolla YMCA, the coaches and principals at each school and from all of the Kiwanis Club of La Jolla members who support the event every year.

Past La Jolla Kiwanis Club president Will Johnson said the Junior Olympics is an important way of connecting the club with the community. He pointed out he’s been approached by people frequently who said their first exposure to La Jolla Kiwanis was when they received a medal at one of the club’s Junior Olympics.

Fellow La Jolla Kiwanian Eric Union, who ran the event for years, has described it as “organized chaos,” noting every student who participates is a “winner” who learns it’s worth the effort to try in life.

Moon Mullen remains involved with the event he started as school liaison for La Jolla Kiwanis. Rob Sauvajot of Peninsula YMCA will be the event announcer. Jerry Shaffer staffs a concession stand that sells food and beverages which help recoup the cost of staging the event.

Jeanine Volinski said hosting the Junior Olympics wouldn’t be possible without the aid of about 100 volunteers. “The volunteers come from Circle K and Key clubs and the Kiwanis Club,” she said, adding the event is important because it brings people together. “It’s such a great family event. We try to improve it every year.”

La Jolla Kiwanis is a non-profit community service organization that raises money for charitable causes, many youth-oriented, through annual fund-raising special events like the La Jolla Half Marathon and the Kiwanis pancake breakfast, as well as concession sales from the September Rough Water Swim at the Cove.

For more information about the Junior Olympics call event chairman Avelino Cortino at (858) 456-4918.