Like an expectant father, veteran Atholton cross country coach Earl Lauer was thrilled to learn that twins were on the way.
In August,he was told that a set of identical twins would be competing for hisboys team this year.
Atholton, which won the Class 3A Region III championship last week, couldn't have done it without Norm and Alex Flecker -- 17-year-oldseniors who are first-year cross country runners.
"They made our program this season," Lauer said. "And this is as good a boys team asI've had."
Atholton, which has won nine regional titles, won the region and state Class 2A title in 1989, so Lauer is placing this year's team in good company. And he thinks they have a shot at winning the state championship Saturday against Whitman, a tough competitor.
That race is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. at Western Maryland College.
Norm is consistently Atholton's second-best finisher behind Bryan Townsend. And Alex usually finishes third on the team.
One of Norm's best races this season was the Westminster Invitational at Western Maryland, where he ran the 3.1-mile course in 17 minutes, 14 seconds.
Norm finished fifth overall in the county championship meet and fourth in the region. Alex was 10th overall at the county meet and ninth in the region.
Norm's best time for three miles is 16:43, and Alex's is 16:51.
The closest Alex has come to beating his brother was at a Mount Hebron meet, where only 1 second separated them.
Norm has a slight edge because he planned to run cross country and beganserious workouts with teammate Scott Woods in mid-July, a month before official practice began.
Alex planned to play soccer this fall,so he didn't prepare with the same long training runs as his brother. Alex was a reserve fullback for Atholton's state Class 2A soccer champions in 1990 and was hoping to be part of another state soccer championship.
But Raiders soccer Coach Reg Hahne, who kept 24 playersin 1990, decided to keep only 18 players this year, and several talented younger players left no room on the roster for Flecker.
"I was disappointed because I was looking forward to playing on the team, but I knew I'd have a place on the cross country team and that it would be decent," Alex said. "So I got over the disappointment."
The brothers aren't complete newcomers to running. They both have competed in the mile for the indoor track team since their freshmen year. Norm's best time is 5:09, Alex's is 5:07.
And they both have played three years of lacrosse for Atholton.
Alex plays attack and scored10 goals and had 11 assists last year. Norm played midfield.
"I really just ran indoor to get in shape for lacrosse," Norm said. "I like cross country much better than indoor and wish I had started running it sooner. I like the competitiveness and the fact that it is taken much more seriously than indoor track."
Both runners are somewhat surprised at their success in cross country.
"I feel kind of fortunate to have discovered it," said Norm.
The brothers have an edge because they push each other to excel. "You don't want to let your brother beat you," Alex said.
As identical twins, the two tell theusual stories of mistaken identity. Lauer knows Norm by two small scars on his left cheek.
"When they're out on the course, I know Norm is always ahead of Alex, so I always yell 'Norm' to the first one that goes by," Lauer said. "I'll be in for a surprise if Alex beats Norm someday."
Both runners also excel in the classroom and are Student Government Association elected representatives.
Norm has a 3.7grade-point average and a 1360 score, out of a possible 1600, on theScholastic Aptitude Test. Alex has a 3.83 GPA and a 1310 SAT score.
Norm has been recognized as distinguished scholar finalist and is eligible to receive $3,000 toward tuition at any Maryland college. Alex is a distinguished scholar semifinalist and may be eligible for $3,000 if a finalist turns down the aid.
Norm is president of SGA, agroup that organizes Homecoming, and Alex is treasurer of the group.
Lauer says the twins are a throwback to the old days.
"They actually thanked me for coaching them," Lauer said. "Thanking coaches went out of fashion about 20 years ago. It brought tears to my eyes."