Towson High proud to have its own star in Phelps

March 31, 2007|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,Sun reporter

At Towson High, they've raised the question.

Kimmie who?

Towson students figure Kimmie Meissner, a Fallston High student, is a nice little skater and all, but have you seen what swimming's Michael Phelps has been doing in Australia this week?

Five gold medals. Four world records.

In your face, Fallston.

"This gives Towson more `rep,'" said Eric Pool, a sophomore at the Baltimore County school, whose alumni include Phelps. "We don't brag about Michael, but the fact is that someone really skilled and special went to school here.

"Sure, Fallston has Kimmie Meissner, but we're ahead of them. Michael Phelps has many more gold medals than she does."

Though he graduated from Towson in 2003, the school has embraced Phelps during the 2007 FINA World Championships just as it did in the past two Olympics.

Prior to Thursday night's opening of Bye Bye Birdie, the school's spring musical, director Donald Leifert congratulated the cast, the crew ... and Phelps, halfway around the world, for his fait accompli.

Yesterday, Phelps' blitz of world records was the talk of the lunchroom among teachers who'd known him at Towson.

"What he's doing is utterly amazing," said Randy Dase, who has coached there for three decades. "It's like winning 30 straight state lacrosse championships."

Phelps stories abound.

"I remember once, when Michael was here, he walked down the hall and bumped into my classroom door," Dase said. "I said, `I thought you were an Olympic swimmer.'"

Phelps' reply?

"I'm not that good on land."

Yvonne Burton remembers exactly where Phelps sat in her 12th-grade English class: second row, third seat from the window.

"That was the desk of that long-legged boy," Burton said. "He was like a big puppy. I should have moved his seat, Michael was so lanky - but I didn't want to single him out."

Phelps rarely requested special treatment, Burton said.

"The only thing he asked for was to drink water in class, for hydration," she said. "Michael just couldn't stay away from water."

Yesterday, Phelps' feats at the world championships were creating a buzz at two other familiar haunts - Pete's Grille, the diner where his appetite is legend, and the North Baltimore Aquatic Club, where Phelps honed his skills.

All week, manager John Cadigan said, swimmers have been hurrying to the Mount Washington pool at dawn to bring word of Phelps' latest victory in Melbourne.

"There seems to be a race to see who gets here first with the news off the radio," Cadigan said.

Even those like Virginia Raleigh, who was pedaling away on an exercise bike, have gotten swept up in the swim craze.

"You feel like you're there in [Phelps'] aura," said Raleigh, of Baltimore. "I never met him, but I like to walk the hallowed halls."

At Pete's Grille, on Greenmount Ave., Phelps' legacy lives on.

"I tell people from home that I eat at the place where Michael Phelps ate," said Kristin Capone, 22, a student at Johns Hopkins University who hails from Westchester, N.Y. "They think that's cool."

Several patrons, including Barbara Crispens of Perry Hall, suggested the owners now name a dish for the swimmer. Phelps was weaned here on stacks of chocolate chip pancakes, bacon-and-egg sandwiches, multiple omelets and heaping bowls of grits. All at one sitting, after swimming 5 miles in practice.

"We've thought about adding his meal to the menu," co-owner Darlene Castle said. "But it would be so much food that I don't think anybody could eat it."

One of those having lunch yesterday was Mark Phelps, 33, of Baltimore. Phelps was polishing off a tuna platter at the counter when approached by a reporter.

"Michael Phelps is my cousin," he said.

Heads turned. The room hushed. Then someone asked The Question.

"You're related to Michael Phelps, the swimmer?"

Mark Phelps basked in the moment, then popped the balloon. His cousin, he said, was Michael Phelps, the mortgage broker.

The lunch rush resumed.

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com

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