Smiles at Mervo prove team is on track at last

Mustang Invitational to show off new facility

High Schools

April 15, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Mervo senior Orlando Brown, 17, sounded like a proud father - except that he wasn't talking about a baby, but about the Mustangs' new track.

"This is ours, and we're going to spoil it," the sprinter said as he stood at the spot where the finish line will be. "This is our new track, and we're going to show it off."

For the first time in the 53-year history of the Northeast Baltimore school, Mervo's track and field program has a home of its own. Started in July 2000 and originally scheduled to open in August 2001, the track is finally a reality.

And the Mustangs will christen their newest addition in grand fashion with the Mustang Invitational tomorrow.

No. 1 Old Mill and No. 3 Archbishop Curley will be among the boys teams participating, while No. 1 Western, No. 7 Edmondson and No. 8 Broadneck are scheduled to compete on the girls side.

"It's there, and it's great because it's there," said Freddie Hendricks, the unofficial dean of track and field in the city, who stepped down last year after 31 years as Mervo's track and cross country coach.

"There are some things we could've done better, but I am really elated that we do have a track."

Fittingly named for the coach, the facility will also include a football field, electronic scoreboard and concession stand. The track is a rubberized surface.

The quest for a track has been a long and arduous journey for the Mustangs and Hendricks, who said he has been seeking such a facility since 1972.

Hendricks said the city approved a renovation project at the school in 1979 that was to include a track, but the proposal was scrapped because it was too costly.

In 1981, Mervo sought assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but the city blocked that plan, too, according to Hendricks.

And in 1994, Hendricks said former school principal Eugene Lawrence was working with a Baltimore-based company to fund the construction, but the company changed hands in a merger and the new parent company declined to get involved.

Meanwhile, the Mustangs found creative ways to train. After changing into warm-ups in Hendricks' classroom, the athletes would walk a half-mile to City College's track. Or they would run at Lake Montebello. Or they would do hill work up Tivoly Avenue behind the school.

Traveling to those sites shortened the amount of time the coaches had to work with the athletes. Co-coach Ronald Neal, who has been at Mervo for 21 years, said the team wasted almost an hour daily walking to and from City College.

"Usually, we had to rush, hurry up and get dressed and then go to City," said sophomore Quantikia Stepney. "Now, we don't have to do that anymore because we've got our own track right here."

More practice time means the coaches can spend more time on details. Co-coach Garfield Thompson has been working with sophomore Nykiesha Sewell, who took up the hurdles last spring. On Saturday, she captured the 400 intermediate hurdles at the Woodlawn Warrior Invitational.

Neal said a renewed focus on cleaner baton exchanges has helped the boys relay squads post times that he might normally expect to see at the end of the season. And Thompson said having the track has helped him recruit a high jumper and a discus thrower.

Not everything is perfect, however. Hendricks and Thompson point out that the contractor did not extend a gate that separates the fans and track along one side of the track. And there are only six lanes instead of the traditional eight. Plus, the coaches had to construct concrete pads for the shot put and discus throw themselves.

But to a happy Hendricks, those are minor annoyances.

"We can make do," he said. "With all the things that I've had to do in the past, putting in a shot put and discus pad is nothing."

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