ERICA MCLAUGHLIN has just returned from the NAACP national convention in New Orleans covered in glory. The Hammond High School graduate earned a gold medal at the African American Cultural, Technical and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) competition, sponsored by the NAACP. It is the first time that anyone from the Howard County NAACP chapter has brought home a gold medal.
Erica, 17, nearly didn't enter the competition. A longtime member of the NAACP Youth Council, she served as president, historian and secretary of the group. She noticed that members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People generally did not compete in ACT-SO and guessed that perhaps, like her, they were too busy.
"A lot of the ACT-SO participants are not members," Erica said. "The NAACP members just don't do it. We've been working to get that changed."
One thing Erica did to bolster participation was to enlist her mother to be co-chair of the local ACT-SO competition. She also entered in two categories - poetry and playwriting.
With only a week to the deadline for entries, Erica began writing her play. She had written three short plays, but this was the first time Erica wrote a play just to please herself. Although she had high hopes for her poetry, Erica turned in her play just in time, with little hope the work would score well in the local competition.
Naturally, she was surprised to win gold medals in both categories.
This meant that Erica's works were eligible for the national competition. As she headed to New Orleans as outgoing president of the Youth Council, she entered her works in the ACT-SO competition there.
Because the ACT-SO competitions take place early in the convention, Erica, who has been to several, was used to having a day or two free for sightseeing during the competitions. But not this year.
Instead, she spent hours waiting for her name to be called by the judges, who had read the works and interviewed the authors.
The Howard County contingent managed to get great seats at the awards ceremony, Erica said - right up front. As the awards for playwriting were being announced, Erica gave herself a pep talk: "I wrote this for myself."
The bronze medalist was announced.
"I received a lot of encouragement," Erica told herself. Then the silver medalist was announced.
"I'm still going to love my play," Erica reassured herself.
She says she never heard her name called when the gold medalist was announced, but the screams of her table mates told her she had won. Erica says she still doesn't believe it, but $2,000 and the new laptop computer that she will receive this month should help confirm the victory.
Erica is headed for Hampton College in Virginia in January. "Until I leave," she said, "I'm going to be recruiting and mentoring to get people ready for the [next] competition."
Debbie Lawrence, 42, of North Laurel is offering baton classes at Carroll Baldwin Hall. The six-week session, which began Wednesday, covers the basics of the sport. Lawrence's team, the Debonairs, will hold practice sessions after the classes. The team has 15 members who compete in different age categories in the state trials each year.
Lawrence has been a baton aficionado since she was 6, when, she said, "my mom took me to a parade to watch a friend's daughter [twirl]. " Lawrence liked it so much that she began taking classes.
"I chose that over being a Brownie," she said.
While she did not perform for her school (she graduated from High Point High School in Prince George's County), Lawrence competed with a parade corps sponsored by the Beltsville Fire Department.
"I started junior coaching at 16 and stepped out on my own at 20," Lawrence said.
She started the Debonairs in 1987. Some of her earliest students are now in their 30s and raising families. While none of this second generation is enrolled on her team, "hopefully, another generation is coming through the ranks," Lawrence said.
The competitive season runs from this month through July. The pace picks up by January, when the team goes full tilt for nationals in late July.
Families getting their children ready for school are discovering sticker shock - the cost of school supplies. This is especially true for families with more than one child in school.
While busy stocking up on supplies at sales, give a thought to less fortunate parents who cannot afford to send their children to school with a fully stocked backpack. Buy an extra set of pencils, folders, marble composition books, crayons or other supplies and drop them off, starting Monday, at the Savage post office.
Your contributions will help kids who could not otherwise come to school with everything they need.