Sixteen-year-old Duvell Howard had never seen a pair of ice skates until a few months ago. Howard lives in Compton, and the only activities participated in were at Compton Salvation Army recreation center, where he is president of the Youth Fellowship.
But now Howard dreams of becoming an Olympic athlete.
"In my neighborhood, all you see is gangs fighting. When Harold (Fryer) told us we could go try out for speed skating, I went and stuck with it," he said. "Speed skating is hard work, but you get fast by practicing at the rink."
Howard is part of a program introducing the sport of speed skating to minority youth in Southern California. The program, which has centers in Compton, Paramount and Whittier but is open to all youth, is offered by DeMorra Speedskating Club; the athletic program is subsidized by the Amateur Athletic Foundation (AAF), and supported by Compton Salvation Army and local Kiwanis Clubs.
The program is designed to train skaters and prepare them for competitive meets, such as the National Short Track Indoor Speedskating Championships scheduled for today at Iceland Skating Rink in Paramount.
Harold Fryer, program director for Compton Salvation Army, is also president of the Compton Kiwanis Club. Fryer and Salvation Army Latino Minister Gregorio Bercian shepherd about 14 black and Latino youths who want to learn speed skating.
"I became involved in Kiwanis, and we decided to sponsor these kids. We bought uniforms, jackets and shirts for them to compete in," Fryer said.
The speed skaters meet at Iceland to speed drill every Thursday and Saturday. They are coached by members of the DeMorra Speedskating Club, some of whom are former Olympians or Olympic hopefuls.
Bob Nelson of Whittier is president of DeMorra and has been skating for 34 years.
"The purpose of this program is to take kids off the street and give them a chance to better themselves through athletic competition," Nelson said.
"We like to be able to give kids something that will keep them busy and maybe change their philosophies a little."
Nelson said the AAF provides funds for skates, helmets and gloves. The AAF also subsidizes ice time and has provided pads for the rink wall for protection against falling.
Elaine Beachey, the AAF grants associate who oversees funding of the program, said the primary goal is to provide the basics a speed skating club needs to get a minority program started.
"Secondly, our goal is to introduce the sport of speed skating to the kids in these communities, and to Southern California," she said. "We think it is a great fit, especially for the summer. And the way they teach the kids makes it fun."
Fryer's goal, he said, is "to get as many kids involved as possible because the neighborhoods that they live in are not the greatest. We let them know that there is a better way than the gangs and the drugs that surround them."
Marvin Pree, 15, of Compton, an all-around athlete at his school, wants to be an Olympic champion.
"At home, all I see is gangs, so I go to school, come back home, do my homework and then maybe play a little basketball," he said.
"I want to be an athlete, and to do that I've got to be at my best. That is why I train by running and lifting weights on my own. Skating is fun and I get a lot out of it."
Thirteen-year-old Twila Dunham of Compton has already earned a fourth place in one race. She would like to win more.
"I already liked ice skating, and speed skating sounded like fun. We come out here and they have us warm up, and then we go through crossovers and then we train," she said.
Beginning skaters, like Gavier Guitron, 17, of Compton, are taught slowly until they learn to stay on their feet on the ice. Newcomers learn the basics of skating from Mary Wilkins of Downey. Wilkins and her husband, Jim, are both longtime members of DeMorra Speedskating Club.
"I try to teach them the basics. We work (on) technique, and I try to encourage them to set a goal for themselves. Personal achievement is the most important thing we stress in this program," she said.
Wilkins says her goal is to help young people develop positive self-esteem.
"We have a lot of potential in this group, and I see a lot of self-achievement for these kids if they stick with it," she said.
Kenneth Mastrianna of Bellflower instructs advanced skaters in racing form and starts. Mastrianna has been a speed skater for five years; he has set his sights on the U.S. National Team and then the Olympics in Albertville, France, in 1992. He hopes to get a start today at the Iceland competitions.
"I take what Mary has taught the kids and I try to refine it," he said.
The DeMorra Club is planning three meets for speed skaters this year. In addition, a new program will begin Thursday for minority youths interested in learning the sport. Skaters can begin as young as 4 years old. The cost is $1.50 per individual per session, which helps subsidize the cost of the ice time.
Fryer says there are no structured programs for young people in inner-city neighborhoods. But, he says, "these kids can tell you every gang member's name, what clothes he wears, what car he drives."
The speed skating program, he says, is "a positive push for our kids."
National Short Track Speedskating Championships at Iceland Skating Rink. Qualifying rounds today, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday, 9:15 a.m. to 2 p.m. Finals, 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $7 for both days, $4 for each day; 8041 Jackson St., Paramount, (213) 633-1171. For information on the Compton speed skating program, call Compton Salvation Army, (213) 639-0362.