Surrounded by a few onlookers in lawn chairs and grass desperately needing a trim, Brittney Griffin jogged around the Carver track Thursday evening knowing she was closing in on the finish.
The 40th USA Track & Field National Junior Olympic Championships begin today at Morgan State's Hughes Stadium, and Griffin is excited to finally be a part of one of the most prestigious events in the country.
A recent Digital Harbor High graduate, Griffin, 18, has qualified for the annual competition in the past, but because of the Baltimore City Track Club's financial limitations, this is the first time the meet is close enough for her to participate. She will run for Saint Augustine's College in North Carolina next year, but not before polishing off her club career at the national level.
"All my four years we haven't been able to go to [the Junior Olympics]," said Griffin, who will compete in the young women's 1,500-meter race and two relays. "You get sick of running against the same people all the time. You want to run against other people."
There will be no shortage of competition at the meet, where more than 6,000 athletes ages 8 to 18 are expected to participate.
And the Baltimore area will have plenty of representation. Because the event is here, local athletes were allowed to skip the regional qualifying meet this year and advance directly to nationals if they finished in the top three at the association level.
Powerful local track clubs - such as Griffin's Baltimore City Club, the Freddie Hendricks Track Club, Team Maryland and the Tazmanian Track Club - intend to take advantage of that by sending several potential national champions.
The city-based track groups each have ties to the Ed Waters Track and Field Alliance Club, which boasted top athletes until it split in several directions shortly after founder Ralph Durant died in 2003.
The Baltimore City Club still receives funding from the city's Board of Recreation and Parks, but there's far less money to support travel to national competitions like the Junior Olympics.
Baltimore City's Anthony Drumgoole, 15, who will compete in the intermediate boys' 200 meters and two relays, said: "That's what I live for - to run against the best."
"We've been going to this for years; it's just for the last two years we have not competed because of a lack of funds," said Jerry Molyneaux, who has been coaching the Ed Waters/Baltimore City program since 1984. "When [Durant] passed away, a structure was not put in place. The funds that we had ... we lost all of it."
During the past two years the Baltimore City Club has instead sent athletes to the cheaper, less-competitive Amateur Athletic Union Nationals.
Team Maryland coach Vincent Fuller said he expects this region to be among the strongest, and he predicts the Potomac Valley Association - which includes clubs from Maryland, Virginia and Washington - will "probably come out with a couple of national champions."
Along with deciding national honors, this week's meet serves as one of the selection pool competitions for next summer's International Association of Athletics Federations' World Youth Championships, which will be held in the Czech Republic.
Meet at a glance
What -- USA Track & Field National Junior Olympic Championships
Who -- More than 6,000 athletes between the ages of 8 and 18 from across the country compete for national championships in five divisions.
When -- Today through Sunday
Where -- Hughes Stadium, Morgan State
Local athletes to watch(Club in parentheses)
Roosevelt Cooper (Freddie Hendricks) -- Reigning city champion in the 100 (11.06) and 400 (50.44), the former Mervo standout will compete in the young men's division in both events.
Dominic Devaud (Freddie Hendricks) -- Before heading to UMBC this fall, Devaud will compete in the young men's pole vault, an event for which he earned Baltimore City Performer of the Year honors in indoor track during his senior year at Archbishop Curley.
Letecia Wright (Baltimore City) -- A rising senior at Western High, Wright won the young women's 200 (24.77) and 100 hurdles (14.61) at the Potomac Valley Association meet and will compete nationally in those events, plus the 400 and 1,600 relays.
Kiera Duncanson (Team Maryland) -- Ducanson won the midget girls' long jump (15 feet, 1/2 inch) and finished second in the 100 (13.26) at the Potomac Valley Association meet. Coach Vincent Fuller said he expects her to place nationally in both events.