Chelsea Williams began to feel the impact of the conflict in the Persian Gulf long before the war began last Wednesday.
Williams, 16, is a sprinter on the Meade indoor track team that competed in the 29th annual Maryland National Guard Scholastic Games meet on Saturday. Her father, Sgt. William N. Williams, has been in Saudi Arabia since late August, assigned to a military intelligence unit.
As soon as he left, life became much more than school work and track practice for Chelsea, the oldest of five daughters.
"I get home about 5 o'clock after school and practice and try to help my mother with dinner," she said. "My aunt moved in with us after Dad left and she has two small children. With all the little kids to feed and get ready for bed, it's a chore.
"I'm trying to be strong for my sisters," she said of Kenita, 13; Erica, 12; Robin, 10; and Rena, 6. When one of them became frightened and started to cry, Chelsea said, "I just tried to let her know that our dad is OK."
Chelsea helps her mother, Juanita, comfort the others.
"Every night, we hold a brief Bible study at 7 o'clock at home," she said. "Mom is always reminding us to pray, not only for our dad, but for all the men and women fighting, and for their families."
Williams, the Anne Arundel County outdoor champion at 300 meters last spring, said her father managed to make a one-minute telephone call last Wednesday to reassure the family that he was OK.
Williams is one of several athletes at Meade who are directly affected by war in the Persian Gulf. About 70 percent of Meade's students are military dependents.
"It has been a touchy week," said Meade indoor track coach Jay Cuthbert. "You want the kids to focus on what they have to do on the track, but at the same time, you have to realize there are more important things in their lives than track.
"We tried to play give and take all week," Cuthbert said. "If they needed a day [off], they got a day off."
Meade's pole vaulting twins, Jeff and Eric Miller, are concerned about their schoolmates who have parents serving in the Middle East. They also fear the possibility of their father being called to Saudi Arabia. Maj. Randy Miller, who has a doctorate in hospital administration, currently is assigned to duty at Fort Meade.
"He has been working a lot more hours, but all we can really do is pray for him," said Jeff Miller, who cleared 14 feet to win the pole vault competition at Saturday's meet. Eric placed third as the Mustangs narrowly were edged by Eleanor Roosevelt High for the boys team title, 40-37 1/2 .
The National Guard meet was held at the Fifth Regiment Armory, site of anti-war protests last week. On Saturday morning, an estimated 350 anti-war protesters gathered at Preston and Eutaw streets. But they soon left the area, boarding eight buses to attend a larger demonstration in Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 high school boys and girls crowded into the armory for the meet. Extra security inside the building hardly was detectable, and city police monitored activity outside without incident.
Schools from Frederick County were not allowed to attend because of possible demonstrations, according to meet director Ed Walker of Lansdowne High. Walker estimated about 5 percent of the anticipated field was absent.
Mount Hebron coach Martin Goode said only half of his team had come because some parents feared for the safety of their children.
"We're here without a half-dozen or so," said Goode. "Their parents just refused to give permission for them to come."
For Chelsea Williams, the anti-war demonstrations are more than a security worry.
"They don't understand what it's all about and they are making it hard on others," she said of the demonstrators. "The war already has broken out and there is nothing they can do to stop that, so they ought to support the military trying to do their jobs."
Another area high school athlete agreed. Juan Marcado, a senior swimmer at Aberdeen, said the sight of demonstrators upsets him.
"They all seem to think it's only about oil," he said. "They are basing their protests on the wrong opinion."
Marcado's father, also named Juan, is a civilian with expertise in chemical warfare defense. He is working in Saudi Arabia by his own choice.
"My father began his second tour in the Army when we lived in Puerto Rico," said Marcado. "We moved to Utah, Alabama and came to Aberdeen when I was in seventh grade. He retired from the Army and began working for a firm under a military contract. He went to Saudi Arabia in October."
At first, Marcado said, he didn't think too much about his father's absence.
"It was a long way off," he said. That all changed when Operation Desert Storm began. Last Thursday evening his father called to say he was OK, but Juan was on his way to a swim meet and missed the call.