The sounds of guns signalling the beginning of races and loudspeakers blaring, "Clear the track," filled a ballroom of the Sheraton Park Hotel in Northwest Washington Saturday.
About 200 children, decked in sweatshirts, gym shorts and other gear, had gathered for the Second Annual Special Novice Indoor Track and Field Meet, sponsored by the D.C. Department of Recreation and the Sheraton Park.
The 192 boys and girls, ages 6-12 and representing all eight city wards, competed in individual events, such as the 30-yard dash and standing long jump, and 120-yard team relays. The competition was divided into three age groups -- 6-8 years, 9-10 years and 11-12 years.
Some events, like sack races and three-legged races, added spice to the more traditional track competition.
"The program was designed to expose children to track at an informal, novice meet," said Walter Brooks, coordinator of the activities. "But most of all, we want them to have fun."
Elimination heats were held at city playgrounds before the meet, Brooks said.
"Kids in these age groups don't often get the chance to participate in competitions, especially at this time of year," said Isaac McKee, director of the D.C. Department of Recreation operations division.
"It's good to see that so many parents turned out, in spite of the cold weather," McKee said. Rows of chairs on the sidelines were crowded with parents and friends cheering and waving to participants.
"These kids are not highly competitive, they are just here for the love of sport," McKee said.
Not all participants shared that sentiment.
"I'm here because I can run fast, and I like to win medals," said Tawanna Hicks, 10, of East Capitol Street NE. "But if I don't win this year, I can try again."
Daniel Goldfrank, 9, of Observatory Place NW, was sorry that winners would only receive medals, "instead of trophies like last year. I'll be disappointed if I don't win."
"It's embarassing to lose," said Joan Ramon, 10, of Calvert Street NW.
But Bill Didden, 10, of 39th Street NW, said he ran because "I feel happy running, and I don't care if I win or lose."
"Fun is the main reason for competing," agreed Conchita Spencer, 11, of Comden Terrace SE.
"It's nice to see all this enthusiasm, including the shouting and nail-biting," said Elena Cerimele, of Tunlow Road NW, who came to cheer her granddaughter Alicia in the three-legged race.
Each participant received a certificate, and gold medals were awarded to the first, second and third place winners in each event. The Sheraton Park donated sandwiches, oranges and sodas for the children's lunches, as well as the use of the ballroom.
"We cosponsor the track meet because we like to have a friendly relationship with our neighbors," said Jeff McIntyre, rooms manager at the hotel. "And the D.C. Recreation Department has been great to us. When our employes hold basketball and volleyball games here, they lend us the equipment."
An indoor track meet is a fairly unusual use for the ballroom, said McIntyre, "but it doesn't hurt the floors."
Following is a list of first, second and third place winners in each event. The number after each name indicates the city ward. CAPTION: Picture, Lillian Branham, left, and Tina Thomas, won the girls' threelegged race for 6- to 8-year-olds .; Picture 2, Feet were flying at the start of the boy's three-legged race for 6- to 8-year-olds . Phots by Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post