Hurtling along at terrific speeds in their brightly colored T-shirts and white canvas gloves, the competitors concentrate on pushing a smashed soda can along the bumpy brick surface of Boston's City Hall plaza with a large wooden push broom. Push brooms and smashed soda cans?
This is no ordinary track meet. But its organizers claim that training for it can be just as beneficial to an inner-city kid as preparing for any serious sports event.
The National Grime Fighter Games, held in Boston each August, were begun in 1983 by public relations executive Steven Biondolillo as a motivational tool for supervisors of the summer youth cleanup crews that employ some 100,000 students nationwide.
The teenagers involved in these cleanup programs work hard all summer for a chance to win this free trip to Boston and participate in the Grime Fighter Games -- such games as the 50-meter Shovel-Carry, 100-meter Bag-Shuttle and 4-Way Bag Fill. (Local programs pay the kids' travel expenses, and corporate sponsors cover the rest.)
``The kids that do get to come to the Games are touched profoundly,'' Mr. Biondolillo maintains.
Jerry Myers, supervisor of the cleanup team from New York City, agrees. He says that eight of the 10 kids who made it to Boston last summer have secured full- or part-time jobs since participating in the games.
Housing the teen-agers at Emmanuel College during their stay in Boston can ``give them a whole new outlook on how life is,'' Mr. Myers believes. ``They see that there is a different type of life out there, that people do other things in this life than hanging out on the street corner,'' he maintains.
It's difficult to tell to what degree all of this translates into improved lives for the participants. But Brenda Cauasquillo determined to complete her education after taking part in the Grime Fighter Games.
A member of Myers's New York City cleanup crew last year and a high school dropout, Miss Cauasquillo has since returned to school, obtained an equivalency diploma, and is now pursuing higher education at business school.
Myers explains that Cauasquillo's decision was prompted by the combined direction from New York's summer youth cleanup program, family influence, and her participation in the games. But, he contends, spending time in Boston with positive young people who were continuing their education or looking for jobs played a definite role in her choice.
``The fraternization is a big part of coming to the games,'' says Lawrence Brinkley, supervisor of Philadelphia's Anti-Graffiti Network. ``The kids learn a lot from each other and develop new friendships. It gives them more to look forward to.''
The games themselves are certainly something to look forward to. While the teams are supportive of each other -- cheering as hard for the last-placed crew as for the winners -- competition is fierce.
This year's champions stole the first event, the 100-meter Push-Broom Relay, with a technique perfected during the summer. By flipping their brooms upside down with bristles facing the sky, the team members were able to push their soda cans along the uneven surface at twice the normal speed.
Soft-spoken Glenn Amaral claims he developed the strategy this summer while practicing rigorously for the games. ``The rule book doesn't say we can't turn the broom upside down, but we start and end with it [upright] just to be safe.''
The top three placing teams (Rhode Island, Philadelphia, and the Boston Youth Clean Up Corps, this year) and the winners of the good sportsmanship award return home with prizes like running suits, donated by corporate sponsors, or the coveted golden broom, the painted push broom awarded to each year's champions.
According to Biondolillo, the success of the games thus far prompted him to establish the National Grime Fighter Association in 1985, a consulting training group to help local governments design, plan, train, and manage summer cleanup efforts which, he contends, often lack basic organization and purpose, even though they are sometimes backed by millions of dollars. ``We are trying to professionalize these summer youth cleanup programs,'' he states.
The Association also plans to continue its efforts to ``revolutionize the self-esteem, outlook, and productivity of [these] youths'' through the National Grime Fighter Games each year.