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It had been quite a while since I went to Madison Square Garden for a sports event. But the last weekend of January found yours truly there not once but twice within 24 hours. It was time well spent. And hearing a Steel Band subway musician turning Beethoven's "For Elise" into Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo A La Turk" on my way home from the Garden provided the perfect coda for my adventure.

Sat Jan 29 marked the 37th annual Colgate Games, a track and field competition for young girls and women. Meet director Fred Thompson, the passionate no-nonsense legend who was the American track coach at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, has been there for all 37 years. So has 1964 Olympic swimming gold medalist Donna De Varona, a founder and first president of the Women’s Sports Foundation and a former commentator for both ABC and NBC Sports. “I’m not a land animal,” DaVarona says, but like all good sports people she loves honest competition and the Colgate Games has long provided that.

Colgate, the toothpaste and other grooming products’ corporate giant, has been associated with Thompson’s creation for all of its 37 years and couldn’t be happier with the association. Colgate executive Sally Phipps explains that 58 of this year’s high school participants have been awarded college scholarships for the 2011-12 academic year. You could see the satisfaction exuding from Donna De Varona who first competed at the Olympics in 1960 at the age of 13 but did not earn a college scholarship because there were none for women at the time. She later went to UCLA, graduating with a degree in political science in 1986.

During the over four hours of competition, young girls from Philadelphia almost stole the show from metropolitan New York area products and other East Coast competitors. There was a particularly scintillating duel in an 800 meter elementary school final between the winner REBECCA WUSINICH and SHERISSE PETERSON, several inches smaller than Rebecca but with a heart that never stops ticking, according to Philadelphian Ken Abbey.

Abbey is a onetime football player turned track coach who several weekends a year drives the Philadelphians to pre-Colgate Games practices and competitions at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Abbey is not even Sherisse’s coach but his comment reflects well on the genuine spirit of respectful constructive competition that is at the heart of the Colgate Games philosophy.

Another elementary schooler from the Philadelphia area, GABRIELLE WILKINSON, won the Jackie Joynee-Kersee Trophy as Most Outstanding Competitor at MSG for her performance in a 800 meter final. She had set the meet record with a 2:18.8 posting at Pratt.

SANDREKA BANCROFT of JHS 231 in Queens won the Bill Cosby Trophy for Outstanding Performance at Pratt for her meet record-breaking time of 7.9 seconds in the 55 meter hurdles.

The Fred Thompson Most Improved Competitor went to KASSIDY FRANKSON of PS 197 in Manhattan for her work in the 55 meter sprint.

The Donna De Varona Most Promising Newcomer trophy went to 200 meter competitor TAYLOR PARSON of Old Mill H.S. in Millersville, Md.

Other Colgate Game competitors to keep an eye on in the future include ALYSSA LOMBARDO, a 400 meter finalist who heads to Stanford in the fall on a softball scholarship, and high jumper JOANNE IMBERT from Valley Stream, LI, who just missed tying the Colgate record of 5 feet 10 inches.

Yet the most important aspect of the Colgate Games is not the trophy winners but the spirit of competition and doing one’s best that makes track and field a special sport, one that I wish is restored to its rightful place in the American athletic pantheon. As Fred Thompson once told his law school alma mater, St.John’s in Queens, the important thing is to “be true to yourself, the expectations that others have for you are secondary to the expectations you have for yourself.”

**St. John’s basketball alumni and followers also had a lot to cheer about during my second visit to the Garden less than 24 hours after the Colgate Games. The Red Storm (ne the Redmen) coasted to a surprisingly easy win over the highly ranked Duke Blue Devils. Before a sold-out audience that consisted of many Duke fans, the Red Storm took control early in the first half and silenced the Duke faithful taking a 21 point halftime lead.

The Red Storm came out strong early in the second half and never allowed the Blue Devils to cut the lead to single digits despite the aggressive play of guard Nolan Smith who wound up the game’s high scorer with 32 points. Justin Brownlee was the all-around catalyst for St. Johns who had several players in double figures and showed the kind of top form that has been sorely missing in many games this season.

The enigma of St. John’s is their maddening inconsistency and their weary faithful warn of their regular letdown after beating Duke on national television. Maybe the new coaching staff led by former UCLA coach and ESPN commentator Steve Lavin, assisted by his mentor Gene Keady, formerly of Purdue (who bears a certain likeness to Jonathan Winters) may make this year end with a happier outcome.

After this pleasurable excursion into non-baseball watching, I guess I must disagree with baseball Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby who said he spent winter “looking out the window waiting for spring to return.” I suggest watching some of the more compelling winter sports may pay some dividends.

**A couple of separated at births to close with:
**Ohio State basketball coach Thad Motta and the late great film actor Karl Malden, Jimmy Piersall’s father in “Fear Strikes Out” among other fine roles.

**Movie star Mark Ruffalo esp. as featured in the fine Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe winner “The Kids Are All Right” and catcher Mike Piazza.

Thanks for your time, this time, until next time: Remember take it easy but take it!
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