On This Ladies’ Day, They Don’t Get Free Ride, They Steal Show

I went to a picnic Thursday afternoon. At least, that’s what it looked like.

There were umbrellas and flags and canopies and bright colors from all spectrums of a rainbow. There were young people celebrating the glories of a beautiful day--and the glories of simply being young and strong and healthy.

These were the San Diego Section track and field championships at San Diego State.

And it was obviously Ladies’ Day, though it wasn’t billed that way.

Understand that it has been almost 25 years since I have been to a high school track and field meet. When last I attended one, it was still in the unenlightened time when girls were allowed only to hold the finish tape and maybe fetch water. For some reason, it had not occurred to anyone that these people could also run and jump and throw.


What happened Thursday afternoon underscored what all those lost generations missed. And what we missed.

In my mind, the girls stole the show.

My generation would have missed the charming exuberance of Southwest High School’s Tracy Crawford, the single-minded determination of Morse’s Yolanda Fitch, the graceful glide of Point Loma’s Michelle Collum and the “I know she’s on my heels” rivalry between Grossmont’s Darcy Arreola and University City’s Laura Chapel.

We would have come away pleased with having seen Brian Boggess sweep the weight events, Ron Young recover from chicken pox to sweep the sprints, Erik Peterson repeat in the high jump and Charles Huff break a 49-year-old school record in the long jump.

But we would have seen half a meet.

In the case of Thursday’s meet, we would have missed the better half.

Yes, my generation would have missed Vista’s Kira Jorgensen and Grossmont’s LaFrania West, a couple of freshmen who came away from this meet with San Diego Section championships. Just wait until they get to be as good as they are going to get.

This picnic really was just getting under way when Crawford’s talent asserted itself with a throw of 155-feet 1-inch in the discus. This was her favorite event, but she had been stuck behind Ramona’s Lori Parker all year.

“When you’re second or third,” Crawford said, “you barely get any recognition.”

This would be her day to get recognition. She also would win the shotput, and both her marks set section records. The media surrounded her and she seemed at the same time both gregarious and shy, and that was part of her charm.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “Usually, if I win the discus, I don’t care that much about the shot. I told myself I could do it, because I only lost by one-quarter inch last year. I didn’t want that to happen again.”

No, there was nothing second-best about Tracy Crawford.

“Celebrate?” she said. “I’m going to celebrate tomorrow at my prom. I’m going to dance the night away.”

Meanwhile, Arreola and Chapel were dancing their own little duet at the meet. When they were on the track, it was as if no one else existed.

They knew in advance that one or the other would win the 800-meter run and that one or the other would win the 1,600. Others would be called, but none would be chosen.

So how do a couple of athletes engaged in such a rivalry handle it? Do they warm up at opposite corners of the track? Do they stalk sullenly to the starting line and exchange glares like a couple of prizefighters? Is this a time for mind games?

Not exactly.

“We warm up together,” Chapel said.

“We talk about school, boys, proms, everything,” Arreola said.

Everything, that is, but the forthcoming race.

“What happens, happens,” Arreola said.

What happened in the 800 was that Arreola took the lead with Chapel on her heels. The pace accelerated, but Arreola maintained the lead. It stayed that way until Chapel surged by on the final turn. Chapel won by less than a second in 2:08.46 but looked rather convincing with her rally in the stretch.

“There was nothing I could do,” Arreola shrugged, “except try to stay as close as possible.”

It looked as if it would be Chapel’s day, except that Arreola’s moment was coming. The 1,600 would be the reverse of the 800, Chapel leading early with Arreola right behind. In this case, Arreola would sweep past to a convincing victory.

“She was so strong when she went by me,” Chapel said, “but I should have stayed with her no matter how much it hurt.”

Arreola did not realize that she had moved to such a comfortable lead. In fact, she was not at all comfortable--and not looking over her shoulder to see if she could relax.

“I thought she was right behind me the whole time,” Arreola said. “I had the feeling even at the finish that she was right there.”

She had that feeling, because that is the way it always is. However, she was the winner by almost six seconds.

All of these little scenarios were delightful sideshows to the main event. The girls’ team championship was up for grabs, and Fitch seemed determined to take it home to Morse all by herself. She won the 100 and 400, and ran on two winning relay teams.

A sense of history proved to be inspirational for Ms. Fitch. She took the baton in the 400 relay with Morse mired in fifth place, and seemingly in trouble. As she grabbed the baton, it flashed in her mind that Morse had won that race for seven straight years.

“I had to get us back in the race,” she said. “We had to win it.”

Unwilling to be part of the ignominy of having such a streak snapped, she put Morse on top. It won both the race and the meet.

This was a case of Morse getting the best of the better half of a beautiful day.