Newman triple jumps into local record books

As state meet opens today, the Eastern Tech junior will try to exceed 40 feet again

May 24, 2007|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN REPORTER

In August 2004, Michelle Newman tried out for the volleyball team at Eastern Technical High by day and cooled off in front of the television by night, watching the Athens Olympics.

Having played recreational basketball, soccer and softball, and impressed by the events at Olympic Stadium, Newman made a mental note to try track and field in spring 2005, at the end of her freshman year.

Two years later, Newman, now a junior, is one of the best horizontal jumpers the Baltimore area has ever seen. At her Class 2A regional meet last week, she reached 18 feet, 10 inches in the long jump, easily the best mark in the area, but that's not her best event.

At the Baltimore County championships, Newman stretched to 40-5 in the triple jump, an area record. No girl has reached 40 feet at the state meet since 1999, when South Carroll's Pun Chittchang went 40-1 for the 3A title, but Newman plans to be back in that vicinity today at Morgan State, where she'll defend her Maryland 2A championship.

According to Dyestat, the online clearinghouse for prep track and field, when Newman accomplished her 40-5 only seven other girls in the nation had gone farther in the triple jump this season.

Three are from California and three are from Texas, hotbeds for the sport. Newman represents a high school that doesn't even have a track, but she's in good company, as James Carter, a two-time Olympian in the 400-meter hurdles, came out of Mervo when it didn't have an oval.

Eastern Tech does have a macadam runway, covered by a roll-out rubberized mat and caterpillars that Newman and her teammates meticulously removed to safety during a recent practice.

Her coaches, Dave Harrison and assistant Beth Bossle, admit that Newman is doing all of this pretty much on her own. Bossle was a softball player who never saw a track and field meet until her senior year at McDaniel College. She did have a unit on the sport during her student teaching, which came in handy two years ago when Newman was pointed her way.

"They said, `You're down for the jumps.' I had no choice," Newman said. "Beth put me in the grass and showed me the steps, broke it down, hop, step, jump. I kept doing that over and over again."

Two years later, it helps to have grown two inches to 5-9, and to possess the speed that allowed her to win the region 200 in 25.2 seconds. She also has a natural lean and coordination.

Her work ethic was serious to begin with.

"She has the best attitude on the team," Harrison said. "I could coach for 20 more years and never get another like her. She's confident, but she doesn't go out of her way to say she's No. 1."

Newman wasn't the seasonal area leader in the triple jump until the county meet, as Seton Keough's Erin Brooks, another junior, went 39-5 and took second at the Penn Relays.

It's all relatively new territory for Newman. Growing up near Bowleys Quarters and at Middle River Middle School, extracurricular activities and youth sports were a distant second and third to her academics. Her mother of the same name, one of 13, was orphaned at 14 and had to drop out of school to help raise some of her siblings. After getting her GED, she was determined to chart a smoother course for Michelle, the third of her five children.

"Schoolwork has always been my mom's priority," Michelle said. "It wasn't until I had taken care of business there that she gave me the freedom to explore other things."

Newman's participation in an Outward Bound program at UMBC has taken her to some college campuses that happen to have powerhouse women's teams. Her eyes widened when she learned that Ralph Spry -- who in 1978 went 49-6 for Old Mill, still the area record for boys -- coaches the Auburn women, the reigning NCAA champions.

After the state meet, which concludes Saturday, Newman will attempt to make the U.S. team that will head to Ostrava, Czech Republic, for the IAAF World Youth Championships in July. That prospect led her to apply for her first passport.

Who says nothing good ever comes out of a kid plopped in front of the tube?

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