Pierce, Stevens track down more Morgan success

Ken Rosenthal

October 17, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

The football team started this season 0-6. The basketball team started last season 0-14. Between them, they've managed only one winning record since 1979, but on this homecoming weekend, all is not lost at Morgan State.

As evidence, we present former track stars Jack Pierce and Rochelle Stevens. Maybe you'll see them walking around campus the next few days. Or maybe you'll see them running in the Olympics next year.

Track and field is the one enduring tradition at Morgan. It didn't escape decline, not with coach Leonard Braxton doubling as athletic director. But neither did it collapse, like football and basketball.

Chances are, it never will. Pierce, 29, and Stevens, 25, are the latest star alumni, and Braxton is rededicating himself to the sport. "I let track slip," he said. "Now I'm back out there recruiting. We're climbing again."

Pierce and Stevens no doubt will be delighted. Each won a silver medal at the World Championships in Tokyo last month -- Pierce in the 110-meter hurdles, Stevens in the 1,600-meter relay. Each is returning to Baltimore this weekend.

Stevens, in particular, never stops gushing Morgan pride. "If one of us does real well, we don't say, 'That's the U.S.' " she explained yesterday from her Memphis home. "We say, 'That's Morgan.' "

Pierce added from his home in Marlton, N.J., "Every time we get a chance, she's bringing up, 'Remember when we did this? Remember when we did that?' We sit back and laugh. Then I start reminiscing.

"Our team was so competitive, in practice it was like a track meet. We didn't have the funds of major colleges. We'd take a van to meets. You really get to know people, riding 28 hours in a van. We had a really good time."

Pierce left in 1986 one semester short of a degree in business administration, Stevens graduated in '88 with a degree in telecommunications and sales. Track, of course, remains the biggest part of their lives.

Stevens probably has a greater chance of making the Olympic team, but Pierce created the far bigger splash in Tokyo, finishing second to Greg Foster in 13.06 seconds -- a time that placed him fifth on the all-time 110-meter hurdles list.

Prior to this year Pierce had never run faster than 13.24 or ranked higher than fifth in the world. He explained his dramatic improvement in four words: "I got a coach." Specifically, he got Norman Tate, a triple jumper on the '68 Olympic team.

The two met by chance on a high school track in South Jersey. Tate broke down every component of Pierce's race, coaxed him into distance work, convinced him to lift weights. It was almost a complete reshaping. Pierce previously trained by himself, and not in world-class style.

In Tokyo, he took every precaution, not only eating and sleeping right, but icing his legs and getting rubdowns too. "Look what it did -- I ran my fastest," he said. "Now I know what it takes. Believe me, I'll be doing it all this year."

There's just one problem: The United States is unusually deep in his event. Foster is a three-time world champion. Roger Kingdon is the world record-holder and two-time Olympic champion. Renaldo Nehemiah is always a threat. So, now, is Tony Dees.

The top three will qualify for the Olympics, and Pierce said, "If I make the U.S. team in the hurdles, I think I have a real good chance to place in the top three at the Olympics. The hardest thing is making the team. Now I have the confidence I can do it."

Stevens is in a different position. She was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in the women's 400 in both '89 and '90, but suffered a strained hip flexor last winter stumbling off the track as she prepared for her victory lap at an indoor meet.

Her first outdoor meet was the national championships in June. She finished fifth, qualifying for the worlds as a relay alternate, but not in her individual event. By Tokyo, she was again sound, and was picked to run the first leg of the relay.

Stevens opened in 50.8 seconds to give the U.S. a 10-meter lead. Her only concern now is avoiding further injury, and for that reason she plans to train lightly in indoor season, pointing everything toward Barcelona.

"It's very realistic," said Stevens, who ended the season running times close to her personal best of 50.39 seconds. "If I stay healthy, I have a very good chance of making the team and going for the gold. I'm putting emphasis on the gold. I don't want to just make that team and not do anything."

Heady talk, but Stevens isn't some upstart, and neither is Pierce. They're part of a tradition, the Morgan tradition, a lasting tradition. Just yesterday, Braxton said, "I've got one just now with the potential to be better than Rochelle."

Her name is Andrea Thomas, and she's a two-time Olympian from Jamaica. Maybe Braxton will introduce her to Stevens this weekend to make the legacy clear. That's how football and basketball once worked at Morgan. That's how track and field still does.

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