Uncle Sam wants Carson High standout hurdler Curtis Hawkins.
And Hawkins wants to serve his country. But recently he has had a change of heart about exactly how to best express his patriotism.
A few months ago, he was set to join the U.S. Army. Now, he's more intent on representing America in the Olympics.
His desire to be an Olympian means that he will continue his track career in a community college next year, with Mt. San Antonio College being the favorite to win his services. Hawkins is simply doing too well to turn in his track shoes for a pair of combat boots.
After all, he's still a baby as an athlete, taking up the hurdles only three years ago, and his best efforts are most likely ahead of him. At today's City Section final (starting at 4 p.m.) at Birmingham High in Van Nuys, he'll be going for his second consecutive City title in the 110-meter high hurdles.
Last season's championship gave Hawkins his first notoriety. But he said an even more important milestone on his road to excellence was his City B championship in 1988.
"I just set sail from there," Hawkins said. "It surprised me, but when I won that, I thought, "If I can do this, I can win more.' "
Suddenly, track and field offered great excitement to the novice competitor.
"I saw all the big-time people running and all the (publicity) they were getting, and the world records and state championships," said Hawkins, who has a personal best of 14.0 seconds in the 110-high hurdles. "The more I learned about it, the more I came to love it."
And if he qualifies for the state final at Cerritos College June 1-2, Hawkins has a chance to be one of the "big-time people" as the California titlist in 110-high hurdles. Hawkins participated in the state meet a year ago, but wasn't a factor.
This year, only Greg Green of Pomona Garey--the only junior to finish with a better time than Hawkins at the 1989 state final--can legitimately claim to be a favorite over Hawkins. Last week, Green qualified for the Southern Section Masters meet with a time of 14.61 seconds. Meanwhile, Hawkins qualified for the City final with a time of 14.64, the best time at the City semifinals.
Assistant coach Jim D'Amore, who has been at Carson since 1973, said that he figures the state meet will be won with a time of about 14.30. Hawkins said his goal for today is "to run a top time, if not my best time, hopefully 14.1 or 14.2."
Hawkins will have a familiar face running alongside of him today. Banning senior Terrence Campbell, who was third in the City semifinals at 14.68, has been competing against Hawkins since both runners were in their sophomore seasons.
"I'm glad he's nearby," Hawkins said of Campbell. "I wish he was at my school and that I could run against him every meet."
Hawkins, who also will run the 300 intermediate hurdles and in the 400 relay, said that he and Campbell have always been competitive.
"We started out at the same speed," he said. "It's been back and forth for three years.
"He'd beat me in league; I'd beat him in City. He'd beat me in one meet; I'd beat him in another.
"It's always like that; even in basketball games on the weekends, we play on different teams. But it's all friendly.
"We see each other at the meets before we run, and there's not too much we can say then. But after we run, we talk a lot."
D'Amore is another person Hawkins often talks to, and not always about track. D'Amore helped persuade Hawkins to pursue an education.
"He's a great coach, but he's more like a friend," Hawkins said. "Anything to help me get better, you name it, he does it.
"Without him, I wouldn't be anywhere near where I am."
D'Amore said Hawkins' willingness to succeed makes coaching him easy.
"He's an awfully good kid, and he just wants to win really bad," D'Amore said. "I have a son, but if I had another one, I'd want him to be just like Curtis.
"He's a great citizen with a great work ethic. You tell him to do it, he does it."
Recent injuries have tested Hawkins' will.
"It's been frustrating," Hawkins said of the knee, heel and shoulder problems he has been battling the past couple of weeks. "You think of all the mistakes you make during the season, and you know this is the time of year you want everything to be perfect."
Currently, a swollen right knee offers the biggest hurdle on his path to perfection.
"(The swelling) is going down, but it's still really tight," said Hawkins, who also had some knee problems last fall as a starting cornerback on the Colts' football team. "It takes time to loosen it up.
"It's my trail leg, and it's basically from hitting my knee a lot (on the hurdles). I don't know why I'm getting this now.
"There's fluid on my knee, so the muscle there is tight. It makes me bring my knee up higher so I won't hit it."
Hawkins said that he won't back down for the upcoming City and state meets, which mark the end of his prep career. But he'll use common sense, too, knowing his track days are far from over.
"Coming into the 12th grade, I was positive I was going into the Army," he said. "But now that I'm running these times, I'd like to keep running track.
"I've put the Army to the side. I'm thinking about the Olympics now."
Hawkins said it's hard to believe he's talking about world-class hurdles competition when he thinks back to his first excursions around the Carson track. He stumbled into his current event, he said.
"I didn't have any form and was too slow to run anything else, like the sprints or relays" he said. "Coach D'Amore thought I should try something technical, the hurdles."
And the rest, Hawkins hopes, is history--not military history, but Olympic history.
The Southern Section Masters meet (4 p.m. today at Cerritos College) is strictly a state-qualifying competition. There will no team scoring or individual awards.
The top five finishers in each event of the meet will move on to next week's state meet. The field is composed of the top nine entrants in each event at last week's Southern Section finals.
Long jumpers Jennifer Tully of Torrance (17-7 3/4 qualifying jump), Lisa Leslie of Morningside (17-6 3/4) and Rena Harris of Morningside (17-3 3/4) will compete in the meet. Walnut's Juliana Yendork (19-7 1/2) is the favorite.
Leslie was the top qualifier with a 5-5 high jump. In the triple jump, which took place Tuesday, she had a mark of 37-6, which made her the third qualifier.
With a 35-6 triple jump, Banning's Tiffany McCloud was the top qualifier at the City semifinals.
Banning's Lauea Taape and Narbonne's Yolanda Wright were the second and third qualifiers, respectively, in the City semifinals in the shot put. Taape had a mark of 37-5 1/4; Wright's was 37-4. The top mark in the event was 38-11 1/2.
Banning's Sonja Bryant had a triple jump of 17-3 1/4, making her the No. 2 qualifier for today's City finals.
San Pedro's Neysa Weyrauch is one of six City finalists who high jumped 4-10 in the semifinals. No one surpassed that mark.
Westchester's Andrea Burnside and Banning's Lashette Molette are the co-favorites in the City 100-meter low hurdles. Molette had the best qualifying time (15.01), while Burnside was at 15.22.
With a long jump of 21-7 1/2 in the City semifinals, Carson's Fred Sims ranked as the third qualifier and was only three inches off the top mark.
After posting a 6-0 mark in the high jump last week, Gardena's Charles Mabry is one of the favorites for the City championship. However, five other athletes also had 6-0 jumps in the semifinals.
Running 40.44 in the 300-meter intermediate hurdles, Banning's Campbell was the second qualifier for the City finals, only 0.35 seconds behind the top time.