At an indoor track meet at Baltimore's Fifth Regiment Armory last Monday, Perry Hall coach Jerry Martin saw something he and many others in the area track community thought they never would.
Teams competing from Baltimore City.
"Teams from Southern, Carver and Western were there on Monday, and Poly and Mervo were there the next day," said Martin. "It's just great to finally have the Baltimore City schools getting involved with indoor track. Any time you have their quality of athletes, it's going to improve your team and the sport in the area overall. I'm happy to have them."
After several years of lobbying by coaches such as Ralph Durant, who oversees the Ed Waters Track Club, in which many city and area athletes compete during the summer, as well as Fred Hendricks of Mervo and Jerry Molyneaux of Western, the city is financing an indoor track season.
And as has been tradition during the outdoor season, Western is expected to be the best among the girls teams, while Mervo and Poly appear strong on the boys side.
"I'm definitely excited to have the season," said Hendricks. "We have a good nucleus, some of whom are fringe runners who are going to develop when I never would have seen them this time of year. It's just really nice finally to have your team out there, and it's going to be a big help for the spring."
However, because the program was not confirmed until just a few weeks before it began, many coaches are looking at limited turnouts.
Mervo, for example, is missing standout middle-distance runner Garfield Thompson, who wrestles along with sprinter Terry McNair. Distance runner Mike Curtis is playing basketball. Western runners Kimya McCoy is swimming and sprinter Lenaya DeShields is into dance. Still others at neighboring schools are playing boys or girls basketball.
"Some of the better athletes in the city had their agendas in place and had already decided to be involved in other things, like basketball, and you can't blame them because they're used to doing whatever they've been doing," said Molyneaux.
"I think you'll see that once the indoor program gets more established, more kids will be making the decision to run."
Mervo still has a good squad out, with Dante Palmer, who already has run a 6.6-second 55-meter --, and Jason Panniell, who was third in the 110 outdoor hurdles in last spring's 4A state meet.
Royston Lyttle will run in the 55 and 300, and sophomore Antoine Collins, who runs the 500 and the 800, is a transfer from Edmondson.
Also for the Mustangs, Marshall Logan has performed well in the 300 at his first meet, and Zarkee Hendricks has shown versatility in the 300, 500 and 800. Other Mervo competitors include Timothy Booker in the 55 and Kekoe Hayes, a sprinter and long jumper.
Except for McCoy and DeShields, Molyneaux said he has "basically the same team kids that we had last year for track, so we should do well and be competitive for outdoors."
There are seniors Elizabeth Johnson in the 800 and 1,500, Tamara Clark (300, 800 and 500) and Tamara Laing (55 and 300).
Senior middle-distance runner Samaree Taru (800, 1,500) is running, as well as Molyneaux's most versatile athlete, Gabriel Butler, who will do the hurdles, 300 and 800.
Molyneaux also will have three outstanding freshmen, Jane Ward (triple, 300), Erika Dorsey (300) and Nikki Williams (300, long jump).
Among Mervo's girls are five runners who Hendricks said form a good base. They are Aramah Johnson and Samantha Johnson, who are unrelated, Erin Purdie, Brandy Vinson and Kristine Williams.
"We have about 17 boys and about 10 girls, but there are other teams with 10 or less kids that are probably hurting more than us," said Hendricks. "This will probably be a year of growing pains for them."
But more important in the first season than any kind of team or individual success is the fact that the city teams now have a way of keeping pace with other teams from around the state.
"The city's been trying to get indoor track for about three years," said eighth-year coach Molyneaux, a native of the Virgin Islands who was a former national-caliber Division II runner in the 400 and 800 at Morgan State.
Having the indoor season is an advantage, said Molyneaux, but he warned that it can be a disadvantage "if you burn out the kids."
"For me, it's just a chance to develop a base. It's just a preparation for outdoors for kids who are on two or three different levels," said Molyneaux.
"For the kids that ran cross country, it's just a matter of fine tuning, keeping them on weight programs and not overtraining them for April. The ones who have experience, but are just coming out, we'll work on conditioning, not so much speed work. The ones who are coming out for the very first time, it's a chance to see where they fit and we can develop their skills."