Call Amanda Laughton and Jeff Sparenborg superkids.
As athletes, the two middle schoolers have been willing to try just about anything. Already they are veterans of the Harford County Gliders track club,and this summer, they decided to try the pentathlon.
In the summer heat, the pentathlon can be a grueling event for the youngsters. For Amanda, 12 and a seventh-grader at Aberdeen Middle School, it means running 800 meters, hurdling, high jumping, long jumping and throwing the shot put. For Jeff, 11 and a sixth-grader at Southampton Middle, the events are the same but his run is 1,500 meters.
Two weeks ago, Amanda and Jeff each finished third in their first pentathlons. That was good enough to qualify for the Amateur Athletic Union Junior National Championships in Tallahassee, Fla., in August.
Those third-place performances, in the 11-12 age group, did notsurprise Gliders coach Ray Hruz, who talked Amanda and Jeff into trying the pentathlon. On a trip to The Athletics Congress Junior National Championships in Nebraska last summer, Hruz noticed that the results for the 11-12 and 13-14 age groups weren't exactly untouchable.
"I had enough kids who were well rounded, and if I could teach them a few things, I thought they could qualify for nationals," said Hruz,who has coached Joppatowne High's Thori Staples, a second-place TAC national finisher in the heptathlon last year.
"At the beginning of the season, I talked to eight or nine kids and said, 'I think you guys could make nationals,' " said Hruz. "I showed the parents the results and I showed each kid. Some of them already were running fast enough or jumping high enough."
Amanda and Jeff were the only takers.
"It was just a whole bunch of events I liked. I thought it was neat, so I did it," said Amanda, who also competes in gymnastics and soccer.
Amanda, whose best event is the 800 meters, had to learn tohurdle and throw the shot put for the pentathlon, while Jeff had to add hurdling and the long jump.
"I like the field events best, andthis has a lot of field events, so I just wanted to try it," said Jeff,who also plays soccer, basketball and tennis.
Hruz, who runs Gliders' practice sessions four nights a week at the Bel Air High track, said he has been impressed that Amanda and Jeff stuck with their training even though they only competed in the pentathlon once.
"It takes more dedication," said Hruz. "Amanda and Jeff have been out there every night. Other kids might come out two nights a week because they are mainly running or jumping. For Amanda and Jeff, one night they might jump, another night they'll run and another night they'll throw."
When there is no pentathlon at a meet, Amanda and Jeff compete in some of the running and jumping events.
Amanda, who has been with the Gliders for three years, will always run. She holds the clubrecord for the girls 9-10, 1,500 meters with a time of 6 minutes, 56seconds. Hruz said her 800-meter times this year would place her in the top six in the county girls high school championships.
Jeff, who has been with the club for two years, does best in the hurdles andshot put. Hruz has high hopes for Jeff next year be
cause he willremain in the same age group and a year of experience should help him improve.
Hruz, who coaches the track team at Bel Air High, said he hopes both Amanda and Jeff will continue to compete through high school.
"They both have terrific potential," said Hruz.
"On my high school team, I've got a group of guys 15 or 16, and they're just starting to hurdle. It's a short season, so they're just getting it when the season is over. These kids are gonna have a lot of good habits when they walk in and both are gonna have a lot of events to chose from."