Teams scrambling to find Armory fill-in

5th Regiment renovation leaves public schools in Baltimore homeless

High Schools


Mervo coach Freddie Hendricks is preparing to field one of his most formidable indoor track teams in years. He has lightning-quick sprinters, dominating middle-distance men, and quite possibly the area's best shot-putter.

One thing he's sorely lacking, however, is a place to field them.

As practice for the winter season begins today, Mervo is one of dozens of area schools feeling the impact of renovation that has closed the floor at the 5th Regiment Armory, a facility many area teams have called home for nearly four decades.

Without it, they are scrambling to find replacement venues.

But while some of the area's more affluent counties have scheduled meets at the state-of-the-art Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex in Landover, Hendricks worries that teams in Baltimore City will be left in the cold.

"It kind of throws us out on the street," said Hendricks, who along with Bob Wade, director of physical education and athletics for city schools, had tried to schedule dates at the popular new facility but was told it was booked solid. "It becomes very expensive, especially to do something on your own. We are the ones most effected."

Once completed by early next year, the Armory will feature a more friendly rubberized surface over a concrete base - a sharp improvement over its current slippery wooden blocks.

Meanwhile, counties around the region are preparing to make do elsewhere.

Last year, Baltimore and Baltimore County used the Armory for their championship meets. This winter, it was scheduled to play host to seven of the state's nine regional meets.

Anne Arundel and Howard counties each have more than a half-dozen dates at the Prince George's facility, including their championship meets, at $1,600 an event, compared to as little as $50 for the Armory. Both counties used the Landover facility last winter, as well.

Carroll County again will hold its championship meet at Carroll Indoor Sports, a Westminster indoor soccer facility owned by Westminster track coach Jim Shank, and will take part in several meets at Hagerstown Community College.

And Baltimore County will conduct the bulk of its meets at the Community College of Baltimore County campuses in Essex and Catonsville. Baltimore County is attempting to negotiate a date with Towson University, which has played host to high school meets in the past, for its county championship.

While each scenario presents varying problems, teams in Baltimore City could take the brunt of the blow.

Though negotiations continue, it appears some city teams could participate in as few as two or three regular-season meets - down from at least a half-dozen - through an agreement with Baltimore County that will allow them to share meets with county teams on a rotating basis.

The city also is working to secure four dates in January at CCBC-Catonsville, though Hendricks said, "that's not written in stone." The site of the city championship is undetermined.

So desperate is the situation that Hendricks said the city even has considered staging meets at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, about 2 1/2 hours to the east. Wade has gone so far as to enlist the help of local politicians in the effort to secure local venues, according to Hendricks.

Hendricks, a legendary figure in local track circles, is one of several top coaches and administrators who would like to see a modern indoor facility built in the metro area with a combination of private and public money. Baltimore, he said, is one of the few large cities in the nation without one.

"We've been talking about that for 20 years," North County coach Ed Harte said. "You've got soccer arenas going up in every county. You always hear about someone thinking of doing it, but this has been an issue since the '60s. You would think someone would do it."

Oakland Mills coach Sam Singleton, chairman of the state indoor track committee, said an investment group discussed the possibility of building such a facility in Howard County a couple years ago but was rebuffed because of its association with Florida dog racing.

The $60 million Prince George's facility, built in conjunction with FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, features among its many luxuries a 200-meter indoor track on which runners can wear their normal outdoor spikes, as well as two runways for the pole vault and two pits for the high jump.

"It's the fastest flat track in America," said Harte. "When you first see that place compared to the Armory, it's like, `Man.' "

Singleton said the new facility offers so many advantages over the Armory that "I don't think we'll be going back." Howard County already has signed a contract to use the new facility next season.

Many schools in Howard and Arundel counties are less than 40 minutes from Landover, but it's a different story in Baltimore County, at least an hour away by bus.

"The Armory folks have been very kind to us, and there isn't any doubt that this is only a temporary move," said Baltimore County Coordinator of Athletics Ron Belinko. "That's a tremendous distance for both Baltimore City and Baltimore County to travel. And with the price, you could probably afford only a meet or two."

Another casualty will be the annual National Guard Games, which for 39 years have featured some of the state's top public and private school teams. More than 30 teams competed this January.

"We knew we'd have to bite the bullet one of these years to let them re-deck the floor," said Milford Mill coach Joe Sargent, director of the Class 3A-2A Central region.

"We have a really good team this year, and to not run as much as we've been running is going to affect us considerably," Hendricks said. "That's where you get your base [for the outdoor season]. That's why you do indoor."

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