Even before Larry Stewart made the Washington Bullets, Coppin State already was known as a basketball school. Fang Mitchell's men finished atop the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season standings the last two years, and Doug Robertson's women took the postseason tournament last March.
Don Webster would like to change the perception that little else is going on in Coppin State athletics. As coach of the men's and women's cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field programs, Webster oversees nearly one-half of the Eagles' athletic department.
His fiefdom could take another step toward respectability tomorrow at Oregon Ridge Park, site of the MEAC cross country championships. Coppin State sophomore Diana Pitts is among the favorites in the 11 a.m. women's race. In the noon men's race, the Eagles plan to dethrone Morgan State and bring Coppin State its first MEAC trophy not topped by a basketball.
Cross country in the MEAC often consists of fall training for sprinters, and Webster admits he's already gearing up for indoor track. None of Webster's recruits starred as long-distance runners in high school, but they were pretty good at 400 and 800 meters. Getting them to excel over 5- and 6-mile courses takes persuasion on Webster's part.
Sophomore Courtney Bennett was a standout 800 runner in the Bronx, but won the MEAC 5,000 outdoors last spring. Fellow New Yorkers Euan Hinds and Kirk Myers, and Virgin Islands native Nicholas Eugene have similar backgrounds. Larry English and Kelvin Barton are rookies receiving indoctrination this fall.
"We don't recruit accomplished middle-distance runners," Webster said, "but we do go after kids capable of running longer distances. It's a tremendous change for some of them, but it's the only way they'll be successful at the college level."
Webster knows about success. Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, he was the nation's fastest high schooler at 440 yards in 1960, and ran three years for Villanova. For two decades, he made a living in sales and dabbled as a college assistant coach, helping out at Morgan State from 1987-89.
Several other conferences are holding championships this weekend.
The East Coast Conference meet will be held at UMBC Saturday (11 a.m.), with the host Retrievers chasing defending champion Rider. Towson State's Paul Walters, fourth a year ago, is the top returning finisher. Central Connecticut is the women's favorite. Navy goes to the Heptagonals in New York tomorrow, and the Atlantic Coast Conference meet is at North Carolina Saturday.
Bowie State's Ron Drummond, a freshman from Poly, placed fifth at the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships in Virginia last week.
On the national scene, Jenny Howard has emerged as the No. 2 runner for the 10th-ranked Wisconsin women. She was a three-time state 2A champion for Fallston High, and a two-time Runner of the Year choice of The Evening Sun.
* UMBC finds itself in the unique position of cheering for Towson State Saturday.
If the Tiger soccer team beats Buffalo, UMBC gets the No. 1 seed and the home-field advantage for the ECC tournament Nov. 9-10. If Buffalo wins at Towson Saturday (11 a.m.) and at UMBC Sunday (noon), it will finish atop the regular season standings and host the final four. Towson State has won the last two titles in part thanks to the efforts of Ed McCue, a senior midfielder from Alexandria, Va., who is the ECC Player of the Week.
Navy can win the right to host the Patriot League playoffs Nov. 9-10 by beating Bucknell at Dewey Field Saturday (1 p.m.). The Middies are 5-1 in the league, 14-0 in their history against Bucknell.
* The National Junior College Athletic Association field hockey championships will be held this weekend at Harford Community College. Tomorrow's semifinals have Harford meeting Herkimer, N.Y., at 11 a.m., and Becker, Mass., going against Ocean, N.J., at 1 p.m. On Saturday, the consolation is at 10 a.m., the championship at noon.
Maryland, ranked No. 3 in the nation, is headed to the NCAA Division I tournament, while Salisbury State appears a lock for the Division III field.
* The state's only Division I women's soccer teams meet next Monday (3:30 p.m.), when Maryland plays at UMBC . . . The UMBC and Towson State volleyball teams are part of the Forrestal Classic tournament at Navy's Macdonough Hall tomorrow (4 p.m.) and Saturday . . . Bucknell's Julia Diaz, a freshman from McDonogh, reached the finals of the Patriot League tennis tournament in No. 1 singles . . . Loyola golfer Tom Gramigna capped a fine season by winning the James Madison Invitational.