Kern County is going to the Olympics. More than 50 local athletes qualified and are heading--well--not to Rio for the Olympics but to several Junior Olympic competitions across the state.
At the Bakersfield Swim Club ten kids ages 12 and under will compete next week against the best in the region. "Making it when they're this young is absolutely great," said first year coach Wesley Schultz. "If you're swimming against faster people you will go faster."
But for other sports, the Jr. Olympics (JO) are an even bigger deal. Four teams from the Bakersfield Water Polo Club leave this weekend for four days of games in San Jose at Stanford University. Instead of competing against the best in the region they'll be competing against the best in the country.
"To compete against teams from New York and what not, it's kind of amazing when we beat them," said Garces senior Patrick Burke. Burke is competing in his 7th JO but for some of his teammates this will be their first. "It seems kind of overwhelming," said Alex Price.
If anyone can relate to that feeling it's eleven year old Richard Jennings. When asked what he was feeling he said, "Nervous and scared. I'm just happy that I made it this far."
Jennings will run the 80 meter hurdles and is one of three young track stars from Taft. "They have been out here the last 12 weeks, three days a week working," said Ray Wooldridge, a coach at West Side Parks and Recreation District.
This year Wooldridge convinced Jennings and 13 year old Tyler Terrell to try and make a run after having 13 year old Micayla Wells medal at last year's JO in the triple jump. "Just the sense of accomplishment that she had from doing that, it made the hair on my arms stand up," Wooldridge remembered.
So while the JO are a far cry from the stage in Rio, for these little athletes it's the first step toward their bigger dreams. "I want to eventually be able to make it to the Olympics," said Wells.
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