For a while, friends had been more than willing to point out to Locke High School track Coach Jimmy Lee that the well had run dry and that this might be a good time to look for a college job.
Lee had led the Locke girls to two straight City titles and a third-place finish in the State meet, but it appeared this year that he faced a mediocre season with both the boys' and girls' teams.
Lee chose a positive outlook in preparing for his fifth year at Locke, however uneventful it might be.
"I was thinking maybe it would still be fun because things wouldn't be so high-pressured since we were not going to be that good," Lee recalled the other day. "I thought maybe this would be a chance for me to relax a bit."
But something happened to Locke on the way to mediocrity.
Several months after Chewuakii (Choo Choo) Knighten and Tesha Giddens had graduated and moved on to UCLA and Texas, respectively, taking with them four California individual championships and two second-place finishes, two new stars arrived unexpectedly. Coincidentally, both are 800-meter standouts--one on the boys' team, the other on the girls' team.
One, senior Vincent Thompson, a transfer from Ganesha High in Pomona, was second in his event in the state last year, and the other, Kim McAllister, a freshman, is "a born half-miler" according to Lee.
"I guess I've just been living right," Lee said, laughing. "And right now, I'm very happy about that."
McAllister, who will turn 15 April 19, has the second-best time in California in the 800 at 2 minutes 13.55 seconds. Only Desiree Joubert of Westlake has run the 800 faster, 2:13.51. Both times were posted in last week's Pasadena Games at Occidental College, and McAllister's run was especially impressive since she did it with blisters on the ball of her left foot.
"That's the first time I've ever lost in the 800," she said. "I was disappointed, but then I saw the time and I realized what hard work can get you. Now, I just have to keep it up."
McAllister said she wants to break 2:10 by the end of the season, which seems a realistic goal. That mark would have been good enough to challenge for the state title last season, when Kristen Dowell of Santa Teresa in San Jose won after a slow first lap, but whether it will hold up this June at Cerritos College is another question.
"As a freshman, it is very realistic that she could break 2:10 in the 800," Lee said. "I think she has an excellent chance to win City. And as far as State, I think she has an excellent chance to win that, too.
"She was edged out at the Pasadena Games, but that just shows that there are people out there for her to go after."
Indeed. Besides Joubert, there is Darcy Arreola of La Mesa Grossmont, who finished second in 1985 but has been concentrating on the 1,600 and 3,200 this season. All three, however, are scheduled to run the 800 in next Saturday's Arcadia Invitational, which could make for an interesting matchup of McAllister's speed--she has also a very respectable 55.6 in the 400--and Arreola's stamina.
Thompson's goals are much loftier--the national mark of 1:47.31 set by Pete Richardson of Berkeley in 1981. But first, he has to reach Jeff West's all-time City best of 1:48.20, set in 1979. Thompson has a best of 1:52.35, also set in the Pasadena Games, which ranks him No. 1 in the nation.
"I wanted to get going this early in the season," he said. "I wanted everyone to know that I'm serious. Early last year, my fastest time in league was 1:57 and nobody noticed me until the CIF finals."
He ended up winning the Southern Section 3-A title in the 800 and finishing second in the State meet.
An early season 880-yard showdown indoors with Neil Fitzgerald of San Francisco St. Ignatius, one of the other favorites to win the California title this season, at the Sunkist Invitational in January produced a victory in 1:55.9 before a big crowd, moments after McAllister had won her race.
Thompson and McAllister came back in February to double in the 880 at the Michelob Invitational at the San Diego Sports Arena.
"I didn't know him around the school at all until he came into my office," Lee said of Thompson's first days at Locke. "In fact, I didn't know who he was until I saw him run. Then, I remembered him from the State meet."
Thompson also gives the Saints a boost in the relays, joining Joseph Hart, who finished fifth in California in the 400 last season and won the event at the Sunkist. A big test will come at Arcadia, where the 400 and 1,600 relay teams will challenge state-leading Pasadena Muir.
Prep Notes A 16-member high school swim team from Osnabruck, West Germany, is concluding its visit to California with two meets in four days. The team met Loyola and Palisades at Loyola Friday, and will swim against Palisades and San Pedro at Palisades, Monday. . . . The Palisades girls' swimming team, led by seniors Michelle Saxer and Joelle Bower, has a good shot at winning its fifth straight City championship. Saxer, who specializes in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100 butterfly, has won five individual titles, and Bower is the defending champion in the 100-yard breaststroke. . . . Pauline Jordan of Pasadena Muir was named second-team All-American and Terri Mann of San Diego Point Loma made third team in the Shreveport Journal's survey of coaches of nationally ranked girls' teams. Tammy Hammond of Irvington, N.J., bound for USC after averaging 31 points, 17 rebounds, 6 assists, 4 steals and 3 blocked shots a game as a senior, was named outstanding player. . . . Muir, 29-1, finished seventh in the final USA Today girls' basketball rankings, with Brea-Olinda, 27-4, 13th and Ventura Buena, 26-1, 18th. But Lynwood, which beat Muir and Buena in consecutive games to win the Southern Section 4-A title, could do no better than "also considered" with a 28-5 record. Point Loma, 31-1, was No. 6, tops among California teams. . . . Announcement of the Shrine all-star football teams has been postponed until at least next week. . . . Mark Calvert of Palos Verdes and Scott Singelyn of Claremont Webb each failed in bids to become the first pitcher in Southern Section history to throw three straight no-hitters, although Singelyn allowed only one hit in beating Village Christian of Simi Valley. . . . Quarterback Eric Turner of Santa Ana has signed to play football at Cal State Long Beach.