Overcoming obstacles

McDonogh senior Keith Brown Jr. has proved his critics wrong and battled a painful knee condition to become a track standout.

May 17, 2006|By EDWARD LEE | EDWARD LEE,SUN REPORTER

Keith Brown Jr. has heard the word "too" too often.

Between the ages of 12 and 14, Brown, who said he was "what you would call chubby back then," was told he was too heavy to be a sprinter. On a number of occasions, Brown, who is 5 feet 9 , has heard that he is too short to be a successful hurdler.

And when he battled Osgood-Schlatter Syndrome - a knee condition affecting many adolescents in which tendons fail to keep pace with the lengthening bone and create stress on the bone -for several years, even Brown thought he was in too much pain to contemplate a track and field career.

But in a span of six months, Brown has silenced the naysayers and his own doubts. This past winter, the McDonogh senior captured gold medals in the 55-meter hurdles at three nationally renowned invitationals and four more at the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association championships, en route to being named The Sun's All-Metro Performer of the Year in indoor track and field.

This spring, Brown's winning time of 14.72 seconds in the 110 high hurdles ranks as the second-fastest posted by an athlete from the metro area. He finished second in the 100 and 200 at the MIAA championships on Saturday.

It's been an amazing stretch for Brown, who has accepted a full scholarship to compete for UMBC next year.

"I feel like I've come a long way," he said. "Perseverance has kept me going. I kept that track, and eventually, I got back to where I thought I should be."

Brown's success may have surprised some, but not Gene Hoffman, coach of the track and field and cross country programs at Archbishop Curley. Hoffman coached Brown for several years when both were at the Ed Waters Track and Field Club in Baltimore.

Hoffman said Brown and former MIAA hurdles champions like Rob Daniels and Adam Siripoonsup - both of whom Hoffman mentored at Archbishop Curley - have dispelled the notion that a successful hurdler must be a tall one.

"Keith is as good as anyone I've worked with," Hoffman said. "Rob Daniels was not tall, and neither was Adam. ... I'm pleased that the long, lean stereotype has some competition."

McDonogh coach Jeff Sanborn said Brown's strength is his ability to get out of the blocks quickly and maintain that pace over the hurdles.

"He's explosive," said Sanborn, who added that Brown is the first Eagles athlete to win four gold medals at an MIAA championship meet. "He gets to that hurdle, gets over it, and is back on the ground. ... In indoors, where you've got five hurdles [in 55 meters], by the time he got to the second hurdle, he was just clear and away from everybody, and the race was literally over."

The name Keith Brown is hardly unknown in track and field circles in the Baltimore area. Keith Brown Sr. was a standout sprinter for McDonogh between 1974 and 1976 who won numerous Maryland Scholastic Association titles and set school records in the 100-, 220- and 440-yard dashes. His records in the 100 and 220 were eclipsed by Darrius Heyward-Bey, but his time of 47.6 in the 440 in 1975 remains.

He also claimed the 100, 220 and 440 at the Junior Olympic Trials in May 1976, which was "a feat never before accomplished in the Junior Olympics," Hugh Burgess wrote in McDonogh School, 1972-1997: Years of Challenge and Resolution.

At Villanova, Keith Brown Sr. was an All-American and was invited to be a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, although the United States boycotted the Games in Moscow.

Keith Brown Sr. was pleased when his son decided to take up track when he was 9, but he was careful not to place any expectations on him and even prodded him to try out events like the shot put and long jump.

"I'm sure there was some pressure," Keith Brown Sr. said. "However, he found his own niche in hurdles."

Said Keith Brown Jr.: "It wasn't a lot of pressure. If anything, I put more pressure on myself than other people put on me. I expect a lot of myself."

He was slowed, however, by his three-year bout with Osgood-Schlatter Syndrome. Brown tends to gloss over the difficult period - he refers to it as simply "growing pains" - but his father said he, his wife Benita and daughter Kristen constantly worried about Keith Brown Jr.'s health.

"It was terrible. He was always in pain," Keith Brown Sr. said. "We would say, `Come on, son, let's go train,' and he would say, `Dad, it hurts.' It took time, patience and prayer."

Keith Brown Jr. recovered during his sophomore year and worked hard on shedding the weight he had gained because of his knee condition. He became a solid contributor during his junior year, but was often overshadowed by teammates like Heyward-Bey, Tristram Thomas and Travon Hill-Chadwick.

"It was easy to be overlooked, but most of us knew Keith was fast," Loyola coach Chris Cucuzzella said. "I think he has made great strides this year. He saw a chance to step in Darrius' footsteps and be `The Man' and he has done so."

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