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Column: Chula Vista grandpa takes world stage in discus

Scott Young, a doting grandfather of four young kids, just returned from the World Police & Fire Games in the Netherlands with three gold medals in his age group — for discus, shot put and javelin.

Not bad for a 66-year-old retired investigator and law enforcement officer.

Young was a Chula Vista police officer for 12 years before moving into investigations for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office over the next 21 years.

When he retired at age 61, he decided to get back into sports competitions. “It had been about 15 years, and I wondered if I could still do it,” he says. “I just enjoy working out. I love track and field and being in good shape.”

High jump and hurdles were his forte at Bonita Vista High School and Southwestern College. After placing fifth in a statewide decathlon championship, he transferred to San Diego State College on a track and field scholarship and graduated as an All-American decathlete.

Shortly after retiring, Young competed in the 2017 World Police & Fire Games, which is open to active-duty and retired law enforcement personnel and firefighters, when the biennial event was in Los Angeles. He didn’t attend the 2019 competition in Chengdu, China, but returned to the arena in the Netherlands this year after the games were delayed a year due to COVID.

With his triumphant return last weekend, Young remains undefeated in both the U.S. and World Police & Fire Games over the last five years.

The 2022 World Police & Fire Games took place in the Netherlands July 22-31. Scott Young was among about 5,000 competitors.

The 2022 World Police & Fire Games took place in the Netherlands July 22-31. Scott Young was among about 5,000 competitors.

(Courtesy photo)

It might surprise many that this international competition, which before the pandemic attracted 7,000 to 10,000 participants, is anchored in San Diego.

It is organized by the California Police Athletic Federation, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Kearny Mesa, and dates back nearly four decades.

The first world event was held in San Jose in 1985; the second was in San Diego in 1987.

The games made quite the splash, as reported in The San Diego Union-Tribune at that time. About 5,500 police and firefighters from 20 countries convened here to test their skills throughout seven days of competitions.

“It isn’t quite the summer Olympics – but it’s close,” began the Aug. 3, 1987 SDUT coverage of the event. Marching bands, military drill teams and athletes carrying their nation’s flags paraded into Aztec Bowl for an Olympics-style opening ceremony as hundreds of spectators cheered.

Bob Hope, who rolled onto the field on a golf cart, was the special guest. At one point, he joked: “We were supposed to have a telephone call from the president in Washington, but nobody told him.”

Frankie Laine led the audience in “God Bless America.” The torch was lit, and the master of ceremonies declared the games officially open. The emcee, by the way, was Dick Wilson, who was better known at the time as Mr. Whipple, his TV Charmin commercial persona.

The closing ceremony was hosted in the Sports Arena by 1976 Olympics decathlon gold medalist Bruce Jenner.

Forty-seven sporting events were staged at sites throughout the San Diego region, and the games were hailed as second only to the summer Olympics in size.

The emphasis then, as it is today, was on physical fitness.

Steve Stigall, who was president of the California Police Athletic Federation and coordinator of the San Diego event, told a reporter that the competition provides fitness goals for police and firefighters that help them carry out their duties. Plus, it’s a healthy outlet for those extremely stressful jobs.

I caught up with Edmund Russell, executive director of the California Police Athletic Federation, on Friday after he had just returned from Rotterdam, the host city. He credited late SDPD Officer Veon “Duke” Nyhus with getting these games rolling.

They sprang from the annual California Police Olympics that was founded by Nyhus in San Diego in 1967 and attracted officers from throughout the state.

Nyhus and fitness-minded colleagues established the umbrella California Police Athletic Federation and continued to expand the sports events, giving birth to the annual U.S. Police and Fire Championships and, subsequently, the World Police & Fire Games. Nyhus died at age 84 in 2013, and today is widely recognized as the father of the global movement.

The U.S. multi-sports competition continues to be held annually at venues throughout San Diego. Steve Blocker, who coordinates the U.S. tournament in San Diego for the federation, says nearly 3,000 competed in more than 30 sports here in late June.

The World Games offers more than 60 events ranging from traditional sports to angling, bowling, darts, kite surfing, skeet shooting, tug of war and wrist wrestling. Nearly 5,000 athletes entered the first post-pandemic competition.

Blocker’s office does not have a statistical breakdown of all local participants (some could represent state or federal agencies), or their performances, however, there were two SDPD entrants, and one each for the Carlsbad Fire Department, Chula Vista PD and S.D. District Attorney’s Office.

Young, now 66 and in the 65-69 age group, won and set records in all three of his U.S. events in June — javelin, shot put and discus — and remains undefeated in the U.S. and World Games competitions over the past five years.

His throwing distances in all three of the U.S. events were farther than those in the Netherlands, where 40 mph winds and cold temperatures affected his performance. Nevertheless, he won all three and set a new World Games record in discus in his age group.

Young and his wife, Teresa, returned July 29, and on Aug. 1 he was back at a local park continuing his 90-minute training routine. “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” he chuckles.

When not training, Young jokes that he’s a professional babysitter for his grandchildren, ages 4, 5, 6 and 9, with two more on the way. “We pick them up after school and have them pretty much Monday through Friday,” he says.

“I don’t do it for the medals,” says Young. “It’s just a hobby. “I’m lucky I can still do it. … I would like to keep it going into my 70s. These are great trips, and it’s nice to have a reason to go. It’s a lot of fun.”

Some competitors, such as those from Puerto Rico, design special Olympics-style uniforms. Young simply wore athletic shorts and a Nike shirt emblazoned: “Go Throw.”

One of Young’s highlights was an impromptu gesture by a Puerto Rican competitor. He presented Young one of his uniform jerseys, telling him, in broken English: “I want to be like you.”

Building camaraderie was one of the goals cited by founder Duke Nyhus. Clearly, he still is doing that.