By Elliott Denman
Special to NSSF.
Â GREENBELT, MARYLAND - "Pressure?
Â "Sure, I feel it, but I love it, too," says Eleanor Roosevelt High School girls track and field coach Greg Johnson.
Â Â It's the pressure of maintaining the incredibly high standards of one of the nation's foremost scholastic track traditions that he embraces.
Â Johnson has taken over the reins of the famed Lady Raiders program from Desmond Dunham, who has moved over to the collegiate ranks as a volunteer assistant at the University of Maryland. Â Dunham, in turn, had succeeded Larry Colbert, one of the finest performers in the national Masters ranks, who had been the guiding light of the Eleanor Roosevelt program for years before.
Â Those reins continue to be in very good hands.
Â Â Johnson has worlds of experience as a coach and educator and has been a success at every stop in his career. Â A graduate of John Muir High School in Pasadena, California (itself home to a famed track program), he went on to the University of Oregon, then teaching and coaching assignments in Oakland, California, and Houston, Texas before coming East to Maryland. In his Oregon days, he became a capable marathon runner with the Emerald Track Club and clocked a 2:47 best.
Â Â Â Â He continues to teach biology and special education classes at nearby Long Reach High School while handling the coaching helm at Eleanor Roosevelt.
Â Â And he's backed by a veteran crew of assistant coaches - Sherman Turner (who doubles as cross country coach), Tia Clemmons, Tim McMahon, Pam Gordon and Eugene Hildebrand.
Â Â Â They have their 2009 Lady Raiders off to another sensational seasonal start.
Â Heading into the 11th edition of the Nike Indoor Nationals, set for Boston's Reggie Lewis Center, March 13, 14 and 15, Eleanor Roosevelt was the national leader in both the 4x200 and 4x400 relays, and made the charts in the 4x800, too. Look for the Lady Raiders to make their biggest marks in Boston in the 4x200, 4x400 and sprint medley races.
Â Â Â They clocked both their the U.S. number one performances at the New Balance Armory Collegiate Meet in New York on February 7th - with a 1:38.19 4x200 win over Maryland rival Oxon Hill (1:39.28) in the 4x200, and a decisive 3:41.75 triumph over Cardozo of New York (3:45.63) in the 4x400.
Â Â In the 4x800, the Lady Raiders' 9:31.03, good for fourth place at the Armory Feb. 7, was ranked 18th in the nation. (The 2008 Raiders had set the U.S. outdoor record of 8:43.12 at the Penn Relays.)
Individually, Roosevelt's young women continue to sparkle, as well.
Senior Doris Anyanwu (1:14.6) and junior Afia Charles (1:14.69) ranked 1-2 nationally over 500 meters. Â Aurieyall Scott, a junior, ranked third in the 300 (38.95) and fifth in the 50-meter dash (7.03.)
Â Then there's sophomore standout Amirah Johnson, who stood fifth at 1000 meters (2:52.71) and 10th at 800 (2:14.9.) Â Senior Jenea McCammon made the national charts at 14th in the 55-meter hurdles at 8.17.
So you can count on all of them playing prominent roles in Boston. Â Roosevelt took home an amazing four relay titles at the 2007 NIN meet, and added two more in 2008.
Â Â With the meet moving north to Boston, away from its long-time site at the Prince George's County Complex in Landover, Maryland, the Blazin' Raiders lose something of their home-track advantage. .
Â Â Twice a week, for years and years, the nearby Prince George's County Complex had been home for the Lady Raiders' legendary 6 a.m. practice sessions. Â The rest of the week, their training sessions were afternoon workouts - whatever the weather - on their outdoor 400-meter track.
Â Â "The move to Boston won't affect us at all," said Johnson. Â "In fact, it will be like a new adventure, a great new place to see."
Â Â Another big part of the Eleanor Roosevelt tradition has been success on the road.
Â Â Whenever, wherever, they've found the way to the starting line - and invariably to the finish line, ahead of the pack.
Â Â The Penn Relays, of course, remains an annual expedition, along with the Nike Outdoor Nationals in Greensboro, N.C.
Â Â Â But they've also put their skills on display at such major meets as the Arcadia Invitational and Mount San Anonio College Relays in California, and the Texas Relays, the Florida Relays, along with meets in Jamaica and the NSSF's Caribbean Scholastic Invitational in Puerto Rico.
Â Â A series of fund-raising drives, and the backing of some truly supportive parents and community groups, has made all these travels possible over the years.
Â Outstanding youth track and field programs in the Maryland area have long served as feeders for the Eleanor Roosevelt program. Â But many other Roosevelt runners have waited until their arrival in high school to make their debuts in the sport.
Â Â Â On the state level, Eleanor Roosevelt has completely dominated the Maryland scene, garnering 16 state team crowns indoors and 16 more outdoors in recent years.
Photo courtesy of PhotoRun
Â "All the administration, from the principals to the teachers and our coaches, they are all behind us," said Anyanwu. "We get as much recognition as the football and basketball teams. Â And the academics always come first. Â We know that high school is just a stepping stone. Â We're truly ready for college when we graduate."
Â Â Anyanwu, who carries a 3.0 average, has already earned a scholarship to Penn State, where she'll major in biology and hopes to become a pharmacist.
Â Â Â "We're all family at Eleanor Roosevelt," said junior star Afia Charles. Â "The coaches, they're like our second parents, we're all in this together, we know we can rely on them, 24/7. Â From our fastest people on the team to the 50th, it doesn't matter."
Â Â Â Eleanor Roosevelt is also a Â "magnet school," which emphasizes its science and technology programs. Â Twice in recent years, it's been honored as a "blue ribbon school" earning national recognition for its scholastic excellence.
Â "We stress academics and character, that always comes before winning," Coach Johnson tells everyone. Â "Winning at any cost? That's certainly not us."
Â The "character" part is huge.
Â Â "Take a look at us, at any meet," said Coach Johnson. Â "You'll never see us being rowdy. Â We're well disciplined. Â And when we're at a meet, we're all business. We know what we're there for.
Â Â "There's always a time and place to unwind, but a meet is not one of them."
Â Â Â The hands-on approach of the Eleanor Roosevelt administration helps assure continuation of the success story.
Â Â Each of Roosevelt's assistant principals is assigned to oversee a varsity sport at the school and that's Mr. Avery Taylor's role.
Â Â Â Â Â And it's been his pleasure to see a long list of young women come through the track program, many with an array of medals, records and achievements in their portfolios, and head off to collegiate success.
Â Â His roll call of collegiate achievers is lengthy and lustrous.
Â Â Â Ebony Robinson, who went on to the University of Florida in the early 1990s, was one of the first. Â And she was followed by Suzanne Reid at the University of Texas, Beverly Chinn at Clemson and Hampton, Ola Sesay at North Carolina, Amber Robinson (Ebony's sister) at Florida, Antoinette Gorham at Tennessee, Ramona Modeste at Morgan State, Renee Clarke at Maryland and Tiandra Ponteen at Florida.
Â Â Â Then there's been Beverly Holloway at Ohio State, twins Tameka and Takecia Jameson at Miami, Marika Walker at North Carolina State, Tasha Stanley at North Carolina, Brittany Ogonmokun and Tashima Stephens at Temple, and Dominque Lockhart at Mississippi.
Â Â Â In addition to Doris Anyanwu, at least four other current Roosevelt seniors will be college-bound in the fall.
Â Â Hurdles star Jenea McCammon is considering Maryland, North Carolina A&T, Western Kentucky and Hampton. Â Teshika Rivers is mulling Western Kentucky and Morgan State, Abi Adenikinju Princeton or Pittsburgh. Â Saliwa Adenikinju has already been awarded a full academic scholarship to Miami.
Â Coach Johnson knows that his job is no ordinary one.
Â Â "Tradition, tradition, tradition" - that's the Eleanor Roosevelt story.
Â Â "I certainly don't want to see it crash and burn, not on my watch," he jokes.
Don't count on that happening anytime in the foreseeable future.