“Giochi Giovanili Studenteschi”—the Italian phrase translates to “Student Youth Games,” and three fortunate youngsters from the East End have scored themselves a free trip to Rome for the event after trying out and making the CONI-USA track and field team, which will take part in the Olympic-style competition at the Forco Italico in Rome from June 2 to 8.
Six boys and six girls were chosen to make the team, with four alternates (two boys, two girls). Chasen Dubs, 11, and Liana Paradiso, 12, both East Hampton Middle School student-athletes, and 14-year-old Eddie Arnold III, the oldest son of longtime Southampton track and field and cross country head coach Eddie Arnold, were chosen to be a part of the CONI-USA track team.
It will be the second straight year Paradiso has made the team. Last year, T.J. Paradiso, Liana’s older brother, also made the team, but he was too old to try out for this year’s team.
CONI is an acronym for Comitato Olimpico Nazionale Italiano, or Italian National Olympic Committee, and is also represented in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Switzerland, Venezuela and the United States. All seven countries represented by CONI are sending teams to the games, with all expenses paid for the young athletes.
CONI held three separate tryouts for children from the tri-state area. Tryouts were held in Brooklyn and at William Floyd High School. The final tryout was May 5. Tryouts also were held in Illinois and California.
To qualify for participation, children had to show proof of Italian descent by at least one out of four great-grandparents who are or were an Italian citizen. Children also had to be born between January 1, 1999, and December 31, 2001. Selections were based not only on physical performances but on interviews conducted by Mico Delianova Licastro, the U.S. representative of CONI, who said that the athletic ability of the kids was somewhat secondary.
“They must be excellent in character, most importantly,” he explained. “A lot of these kids are not fully developed yet, but we did want good athletes. What’s also nice, and being offered for the first time this year, is that the kids will be able to attend the Golden Gala meet on June 6, which has some of the greatest track and field athletes from all over the world.”
CONI-USA will be coached by Julia Pickslay of California, who will be arriving on Long Island on May 31 to train the team until it leaves on June 2. In the meantime, Eddie Arnold has been training the kids and will continue do so until Pickslay’s arrival.
Arnold said it has been an honor to teach and train all three kids, and that his son, who attends William Paca Middle School in the William Floyd School District, will have to do it all on his own, since he has to fulfill his duties a coach of the Southampton girls varsity track team. The state qualifier for the varsity track and field season happens to be held the same time as the games in Rome.
“It’s better that he goes and experiences it himself,” Coach Arnold said.
The younger Arnold, whose Italian heritage comes from his mother’s side of the family, is not too nervous about having to go by himself, even though it’ll be his first time on a plane. “I’m very excited about being a part of it,” he said. “I feel pretty comfortable about going by myself. I’ll let my mother and father know where I am at all times.
“I feel honored just to be a part of an organization like this,” he added.
Chasen Dubs is the youngest on the team, but he could be one of the most athletic. Dubs competes in a lot of triathlons with the I-Tri team in East Hampton and is also part of the East Hampton Hurricanes swim team. He is not all that familiar with track and field, since it isn’t offered to sixth-graders. Still, Dubs, who will be joined by his family on the trip to Italy, is excited to have made the team.
“I feel pretty good to be able to go to Italy and learn about my great-great-grandfather, who was Italian,” he said.
Liana Paradiso will be one of the veterans on the team, having made the team last year, which would have seemed to give her a leg up on the competition this year, but, as she explained, two girls who made the team last year didn’t make it this year. “I think the competition may have gotten a little better this year,” she said.
Paradiso lauded last year’s event and said it’s more of a cultural experience than an athletic one. CONI is also sending the athletes on field trips to all of the major tourist attractions in and around Rome to learn more about their Italian heritage.
Last year, Paradiso ran a lot of sprinting events, which is not really her forte. She’s more of a distance runner and plans to compete in those events this year. Paradiso will be going solo on this year’s trip after being accompanied last year by her mother and brother.
Events at the games will include the 80-meter dash, 80-meter hurdles, shot put, long jump, high jump, 1,000-meter run, and the 4×100-meter relay. The athletes will not know which events they’ll be competing in until after the training session with Pickslay. Arnold said he likes the long jump, while Dubs has been practicing the 80-meter dash and hurdles. Paradiso likes the 1,000-meter run.
But because the kids don’t know which events they’ll be participating in, Coach Arnold has been training them more in technique than anything else. “It’s easy to teach them, because they’re like a sponge,” he said. “The intensity of the workouts aren’t as high as my high school workouts, but they’re learning the same type of basics, and I’m really just preparing them for the next coach.”
The likelihood of the CONI-USA team doing well seems to be high. Many of the athletes returned home with medals last year, according to Paradiso and Licastro. But as Coach Arnold explained, it’s not about who does well and who doesn’t.
“I think they all have the potential to do well, but we don’t know who the other countries are bringing,” he said. “But these are junior high kids we’re talking about. They’re just supposed to enjoy their experience and learn their culture. The kids are going away to conduct themselves as great Italian-American citizens and be respectful, young adults.”