Eric Graham led Oakland Mills to victory by winning three gold medals at the Region I, Class 3A track meet last week. But it's the one the senior didn't win that people may remember most.
Top-seeded Graham false-started in the 55-meter --; in high school track that's a sudden-death penalty. It means disqualification with no second chance. Since regionals are a qualifier for states, it means Graham false-started himself out of a near-certain state gold medal.
He had won the county championship 55-meter -- in 6.4 seconds. The winning time at the regional meet was 6.7.
"Everyone threw theirhands up in the air and moaned, but I really didn't know you only got one chance," Graham said. "I thought we'd just reset. In summer track you get two chances."
Graham, who has competed in football, basketball and soccer as well, has run summer track for the Columbia Comets Track Club since the age of 7. And track is the sport he hopes topursue in college at Maryland, Towson State University, University of Maryland-Baltimore County or Hampton University.
His coach, Caskie Lewis-Clapper understands too well the disappointment of a false start.
"I false-started my senior year in the same event when I wasseeded first, and when I saw him false-start I re-lived it all over again," he said. "A disqualification is the worst thing that can happen to you at a regional meet. Our mile relay DQ'd at a regional meet one year and it eventually cost us the state title."
Graham's disqualification will make it harder but not impossible for Oakland Millsto win a state title tomorrow. The Scorpions qualified athletes for states in 10 events.
Oakland Mills won the regional by 50 points, 127-77, over runner-up Centennial. Howard was third at 75.
The team will still lean on Graham, a squad captain with an upbeat attitude who won four golds at the county meet.
"Eric has assumed a leadership role this year, and the kids look up to him and respect him," Lewis-Clapper said. "He's intelligent, and I can count on him when I'm not around."
The 6-foot-2, 190-pound speedster, who gained 630 yards rushing for the football team last fall, will be a favorite in the 300 meters, an event he won at the regionals.
After falling behindby 10 meters at the start, Graham moved up to second place and rode the leader's shoulder until the final 40 meters, when he sprinted by.His winning time was 36.7. Teammate Ricky Gray finished fourth (39.1).
Graham was part of the winning 800-meter relay team (1 minute, 39.2 seconds) along with Todd Colby, Mark Alston and Gray. And he waspart of the winning 1,600-meter relay team (3:43.4) of Phil Cassel, Bill Dye and Gray.
Gray also finished second in the 500 to qualifyfor four events in states.
Oakland Mills also won the 3,200 relay(8:45) with Brandon Hart, Tim Brenza, Mike Van Ghel and Dye.
And the Scorpions qualified three runners in the 3,200-meter run, as Ken Plasse ran second (10:25), Paul Schoeny fourth (10:41) and Dye fifth (10:44).
In the 1,600-meter run, Joe Drissel finished second (4:33) and Schoeny fourth (4:52). The top four in each event automaticallyqualify for states.
In the 55 hurdles, Josh Waller finished fourth (8:58).
In the 800 run, Drissel ran second (2:05.5) and Brenza was third (2:09.9).
In the pole vault, Todd Colby finished first (11 feet) and Blaine Hart second (10-6).
Graham has been looking forward to competing in state meets since his freshman year, when he wona gold medal in the state outdoor 800-meter relay along with Engelbert Dillon, Andre Vaughan and Adrian Washington -- a virtual who's whoof sprinting at Oakland Mills.
Injured in his sophomore year, Graham missed track; his junior year, he was academically ineligible.
He thinks his best event is the 200 meters outdoors. "The 55 indoor is a little too short for me. I have a hard time on those indoor turns," Graham said.
His father played football at Hampton University,but Graham said he played high school football just for fun.
It'samazing he has time for any sports. He sings baritone with three different musical groups at school, works in a restaurant on weekends and also referees six youth league basketball games on weekends.
Besides Oakland Mills' success, Centennial won three events and Howard won two at last week's meet.
Centennial's Pat Rodrigues won the 3,200 meters (9:33.8) and the 1,600 meters (4:29.5), and teammate Bill Woodford won the shot (41-5 ).
Howard's Greg Yancey won the 800 meters (2:04.3), and Jon Armstrong won the 55 meters (6.7). Teammate Sam Yurko also recorded a 6.7 but lost by a lean at the tape.
In thegirls division, county athletes did not win a single event. But Centennial finished fourth, Oakland Mills sixth and Howard seventh.