Bowling Brook Prep runners learning from adversity off track, excelling on it

On High Schools

High Schools

April 17, 2005|By MILTON KENT

IT WASN'T UNTIL the 1,600-meter relay at last week's Falcon Invitational at Winters Mill that it began to dawn on the Bowling Brook Prep team that they were about to pull off something big.

The Thoroughbreds beat three ranked teams, including two top five squads in then-No. 3 Mount St. Joseph and No. 5 Glenelg, but considering that they hadn't won an invitational meet in four years, it's not surprising that they didn't know they were on their way to a victory.

"All our coaches tell us to give our best effort," senior Jerome Rucker said. "It's not a win or lose thing. We come to have a good time and do our best and just have fun. We came out with the win, and we found out at the beginning of the 4x400 that we were up. We were like, `Wow, we're winning.' "

Even Joel Pechert, the Thoroughbreds' coach for the past 14 years, admitted that the Bowling Brook win sneaked up on him, especially considering the caliber of the opposition. Beyond winning the meet, Pechert said he was able to get some of his "B" relay runners some valuable experience that should pay off down the line.

"I don't want to take away from what our kids accomplished, but I'm in awe of those programs," Pechert said. "That's who we line up to compete against year in and year out, and if we finish fourth or fifth but we do our best, we have nothing to be ashamed of. I think the coaches from all those kinds of schools know about us and know that we're going to come and be significant competition in relays and sprints. Now, they're seeing that we can go out and win the whole darn meet, which I think is surprising to some people."

So much of what happens at Bowling Brook, an independent school in Keymar in western Carroll County on 264 acres, is about discovery, mostly of the internal kind.

The teachers and coaches understandably want the story of their students to be of kids who thrive and achieve, just like kids at other schools. And when they warm up on their track, the Thoroughbred runners do the same stretches and lunges that every other team does before a workout.

But to gloss over where the Bowling Brook kids have come from does them a complete disservice, as well. The 161 students here, aged 16 through 19, are products of the juvenile justice system. Their offenses run the gamut from theft to drug possession to armed robbery and more, and they come to this school, founded in 1957, in some cases as a last stop before something drastic.

"Up until this point, in a lot of cases, those kids haven't been in a position where they've had the opportunity where they could show anything," said Michael Sunday, the school's executive director.

"They've been locked up, or they've been on the street. They certainly haven't been going to school. So when they come in here at these stages, and at 16 to 19 years old, they're at a critical stage, because for a lot of these guys, if they don't get it together now and get themselves moving in the next stage, you can almost predict what's going to happen."

The students are referred here by judges and probation officers, but Sunday and his staff interview each young man, selecting the ones they believe they can help.

Besides the educational program, the students are taught to rethink their lives and remake their relationships, with their fellow students and their families.

Every student is taught to introduce himself to newcomers with a hearty handshake, a look in the eyes and a "Welcome to Bowling Brook."

Perhaps anywhere else, under any other circumstance, the greeting would make the kids come off as modern-day versions of Eddie Haskell from Leave It To Beaver. But because these kids have been given second chances and appear to appreciate this opportunity, their welcomes are heartfelt and genuine.

Rucker, a bright-eyed 18-year-old from Park Heights, started at power forward for the Thoroughbreds basketball team but seems to have found his niche on the track, where he runs on the 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams. His best times for the 400- and 800-meter legs, 55.5 seconds and 2 minutes 14.6 seconds, respectively, might not be blazing, but they are good considering, as he said, he had never considered participating in any sport before he arrived at Bowling Brook 15 months ago.

Rucker admits that he had committed "numerous offenses," but the support he has received here has pushed him to not only receive his high school diploma but earn 12 college credits, which will give him a leg up when he starts at Norfolk State University in the fall.

"At home, I wasn't hearing nothing," Rucker said. "I was just hard-headed, so I've learned a lot here. As far as the athletics, between basketball and track, there are so many things that I've never experienced. I don't know how to explain it. It's just something wonderful, I guess."

Runners are taught early on to keep looking ahead, to refrain from turning around to look for a competitor so you don't lose ground or time. On that score, even if they never win another meet, the Bowling Brook Prep Thoroughbreds are way ahead of the game.

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