Schools prepare for Jr. Olympics

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

Gabriela Solis is considered by her coach to be all power.

Competing in both the 75-yard dash and the long jump at the Junior Olympics Feb. 26, she'll have to be at the top of her game against other competitors from rival Dubose Intermediate School.

For this Memorial Intermediate sixth grade student, her biggest goal was beating the boys in her co-ed P.E. class, and her confidence says it all.

"My gymnastics has helped a lot to prepare for this, I think our chances are pretty good to win," Gabriela said. "Going against the boys, I'm not intimidated by them at all, I've beat them before and it feels all right."

Memorial coaches Gayle Garza and Javier Hernandez have prepared for more than a month with their students for the Junior Olympics. They said their students are hardworking and come out on the field every day with the mindset that they are going to succeed. Right now, the goal for Memorial is to reclaim the title, which was lost by 11 points last year. The competition, which started in 2000, is currently 4-3 in Memorial's favor.

"We have some students who come in with natural talent, and you can't teach that in class," Garza said. "And then you have some hardworking students who may not be as fast, but they give 110 percent effort every day. So the team we put together is really a mixture of the two. The students see this as a big deal, a way to show off their school spirit. It is a big deal for these students, we have some real talent here."

"Every year we try to encourage them to be able to walk off and say they've done their best out there, and that's good enough for us, win or lose," Hernandez said.

Along with training and setting goals, Hernandez also puts together a spirit video every year, detailing the past Olympics and the training the students went through to get there. With the help of his wife and Memorial parents, Hernandez's video is often the highlight students really look forward to, and it goes a long way towards their motivation.

"Usually it's only at the high school where you see highlight videos that get the students pumped up," Hernandez said. "But they have so much fun during the year, and give us so much through the year with their positive attitude and motivation, and we want to do this for them every year, in a way to give them something back."

At Dubose, the desire to succeed is just as intense for Coaches Jason Kress and Lori Karrbach.

"We do sprints every day, since the beginning of the year, and we have the Monday Mile, for conditioning and to get the student's endurance up," Kress said. "Our performance at the Junior Olympics really depends on whether the kids are in the right places, and also a lot on what sort of talent the other team has. We're pretty confident that our students are ready."

Dubose times their students early in the 50-yard and 75-yard dashes, to see what sort of talent they have to work with in the spring. Both sets of coaches have their own strategies in terms of student placement and events that they are favored to win.

Memorial's strength typically lies in the shorter distances, where they make up a lot of their points for the day, while Dubose tends to favor the longer races and relays.

Both teams have their secrets that the coaches are unwilling to reveal, but a significant part of both their plans comes from consistent practice and positive motivation.

The coaches are the students' biggest fans.

"As the time gets closer, the students get very excited. It's definitely a pride thing with these students," Kress said. "Many of them have friends who go to Memorial, and they want to win against them, for their school, and that keeps the students motivated."

Coach Karrbach is also confident that her kids are in the right place, and ready to do well at the Olympics.

"We're ready to bring the trophy back here again. Our students are working hard and look really good right now," Karrbach said. "We're really going to do well in the relays this year. That's where we always do well. The shorter distances are always a chancy thing, it's often so close, it could go either way on any given day. Last year it was close. Our girls have some good speed this year; they're very motivated and I think they're going to win."