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June 6, 2012

Embracing a Winner

Norman M. Covert

You may have noticed an item Monday in the Daily Blather if you looked beyond the fog of its Monday petite edition:


(The Frederick Post, June 4, 1962) – "Debbie Thompson sprinted to a new national Junior Olympic Record in the 75-yard dash Saturday and ran anchor on the record-breaking 220-yard relay team as the Frederick Track and Field Club, both boys and girls, won the Junior Olympic meet in Baltimore.”


I don’t believe anyone even runs the 75-yard sprint anymore and this 1960s-era sports writer shows his confusion about it talking with now Coach Debbie Thompson Brown, who laughingly corrects references to 440- and 220-yard dashes.


“It’s meters,” she says quietly.


Yes, I notice the track markings at Tuscarora High School, where Coach Debbie is an assistant track coach and the place her Frederick Striders Track and Field Team calls home.


In the “olden” days, there was confusion when American AAU sprinters dashed off in yards, while international meets featured the 100, 200 and 400 meters. I’m even more confused with the half-mile and mile runs (now 800 and 1,500 meters, respectively). We’ve gone Global in track.


The former national sprint champion was inducted in Frederick YMCA's Alvin G. Quinn Sports Hall of Fame in 1977, in the company of such local sports luminaries as Charlie “King Kong” Keller, of the New York Yankees. She was inducted in the Maryland Hall of Fame in 1990.


She is the heart and soul of the Frederick Striders, which she started in 1989, determined to help develop and encourage young men and women in Frederick just as she had been mentored.


Often her team practices at Hillcrest Park, where she noted in April, “You know, this is where I started (running) and it hasn’t changed much.”


Born in July 1942 as Deborah Ann (Debbie) Thompson, she was a promising teenage sprinter taken in tow by Coach Jack Griffin. He had accepted the challenge of coaching young women for whom no opportunity to compete existed in Frederick. She joined his Frederick Track and Field Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Club and he set high achievement goals for her.


She sparkled in the AAU Junior Olympics, often competing against her friends, roommates and nemeses, future Olympic Gold Medalists Wyomia Tyus and Edith McGuire. Coach Debbie was a junior member of the women’s U. S. contingent in Tokyo in October 1964, having won her spot on the sprint team by placing second in the 200-meter Olympic Trials to Ms. McGuire.


In Tokyo, she had a one-heat appearance in the 200-meter dash, finishing fourth overall on the wet, uncertain surface. Returning from Tokyo, Coach Debbie was selected by the State Department as an athletic goodwill ambassador to Australia, afterward competing as a member of the American team in Poland and West Germany.


She achieved personal best times of 10.5 seconds (100-yard dash), 11.5 seconds in the 100 meters; and 24.6 seconds in the 220-yard dash.


Compare her times to Ms. Tyus and Ms. McGuire, who finished one-two in the 100 meters (110 yards) in Tokyo, recording times of 11.20 seconds (Olympic record) and 11.62 seconds, respectively. The difference in winning and losing is calculated in milli-seconds.


When Coach Debbie’s name was mentioned recently to Coach Griffin, he immediately smiled and remarked she is a great example for young people. One senses the warm respect, too, from former Boonsboro High School track and field coach Dwight Scott, who now walks the couple blocks from his home to Hood College, where he and Coach Griffin share their wisdom and experience.


She has overcome tough opponents in athletics, as well as from her rare kidney condition. She remains optimistic with husband Charles Brown and a talented staff at her side, helping mold young athletes in body and spirit.


She is no longer able to demonstrate to her charges how she used to explode “coming out of the blocks.” She is a favorite of young athletes like my grandson, Nicholas, for whom competition requires good cleats, her encouragement to keep “your knees up” and “use your elbows.”


Most of all, he likes to get and give hugs. She can do that, too, because – 50 years later – she still is a champion worthy to be embraced.


(The Frederick Striders top athletes in each age division will be joining seven other area youth track and field teams the next two weekends at Baltimore’s Morgan State University, which is hosting the USA Track and Field competition. The National Qualifying meet will be conducted at South Hagerstown High School June 21-14, and the AAU Junior Olympic National Championship in Houston, TX, July 27-Aug.4)


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