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May 11, 2011

Wonderment at Tuscarora High

Norman M. Covert

Yes, I was not at the Frederick Fairgrounds Saturday. If it was running you wanted to see, Tuscarora High School was the place to see more than 800 young athletes. Word about the Frederick Striders’ 2011 Track and Field Invitational must have been in the classified section, as if it mattered.


Former U. S. Olympic sprinter (Japan, 1964),U. S. record holder and Tuscarora coach Debbie Thompson Brown started the Frederick Striders’ event 22 years ago to help develop young athletes. It is her response to having been guided by legendary Frederick High School Coach Jack Griffin.


Hype always follows the money, thus the ballyhoo for the Frederick Running Festival’s half-marathon and 6,000 participants.


Then there was the Kentucky Derby, which turned out to be a ho-hum event, unless you had your money on Animal Kingdom (with John Velazquez up, a long shot paying $43.80, $19.60 and $13 on a $2.00 bet).


Certainly not a “yawner,” the half-marathon replaced the Frederick Marathon, a Sunday event, which caused angst from local churches and businesses because of parking restrictions, traffic congestion, detours, and cops on every corner.


One might describe this new iteration of the marathon a civic event except it was obviously a full-blown commercial venture. We don’t reject the notion that it brought money to Frederick’s travel industry, but it is what it is.


Sounds like the Kentucky Derby if you characterize the half-marathon’s prize list for overall men and women winners: Win: $500; Place $400; Show $200.


That’s quite a haul for weekend runners, who always seem to have sponsors providing free shoes and uniforms. Amateurs? Mostly they ain’t!


Consider that this event was sponsored by local and state media, health care and sports industry giants. They aren’t doing it for noogies. There is certainly money in someone’s pocket; nothing amiss about that in a free market economy.


In contrast, up Ballenger Creek Pike parking was at a premium at Tuscarora High for the regional independent runners and 15 or so youth teams at the gate. They were from such places as Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick and Howard counties, Owings Mills, Randallstown, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.


One dad watched one, an Owings Mills runner, glide by in the four-by-100 relay and mouthed: “Boy is he fast!” The young man also had national meet experience. His 140-person team is intent on trying out against national competition.


No corporate sponsorship, nor logos, was evident, just parents and friends donating food and beverages for the concession stands and pitching in to help.


Parents buy uniforms and shoes, no small investment, plus pay the $5 per athlete entrance fee for this and other regional meets. Ranging from five to 18 years of age, athletes earn no cash prizes, just a ribbon for up to sixth place.


Events ranged from the 3,000 and 1,500 meter runs (a mile-and-a-half and nearly two miles, respectively) to the 4-by-400 relay: four runners each carrying a baton 400 meters. It’s a horse race that we used to call the mile relay. Field events included long jump, shot put, discus and high jump, ages six and under to18.


More than 200 competitors vied in the 100, 200 and 400 meter sprints, plus 80 and 100 meter hurdles. That’s a lot of heats and competition is keen. What an achievement to win in such a field of talented young people.


Track and field is an individual sport. An athlete succeeds or fails based on the clock or measuring tape. You win, place or show at the finish line, otherwise you work hard for the next opportunity. That’s just the way it is!


Some younger runners were scared by the starting pistol, so the official used verbal commands and his flag. It wasn’t unusual to see event judges tying laces for the younger runners. Whatever it takes!


Jam-packed result sheets from the electronic timers for each event were shuttled to the press box where they were converted by hand into final tallies and award ribbons prepared. Staff interacted warmly with competitors, parents and coaches from their seats in the press box.


Coaches were able to pick up a manila envelope with their team’s ribbons, plus allowed to copy their athletes’ individual statistics. It was congenial and the end of a busy, but perfect day.


I have reported, volunteered and attended youth events since the late 1950s and couldn’t believe there was not a single complaint, other than some anxiety about the long lines at the portable toilets.


We saw no obnoxious parents or spectators – what a rare occurrence; nor law enforcement, although it is probable a deputy sheriff patrolled the parking lot and helped move a vehicle blocking a neighbor’s driveway.


The meet was essentially “in the books,” when the power failed in the press box, stifling the announcer’s final call for the 800 meter run and the 4x400 relay.


It was a spectacular day for these children. Coach Brown agreed that a future Olympic champion may have been among the competitors.


It wasn’t money or hype, but willing hands which begat the triumph. Huzzah Coach Debbie.


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