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In the Shadow of the Freeway : Few People Know Michael Granville, but He’s the One Running From the 710 to the Olympic Trials With His Father’s Help

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Few prominent high school athletes in the Southland have succeeded in such anonymous surroundings as Michael Granville Jr.

After Granville set a national prep record in the 800 meters during the first day of the state track and field meet at Cerritos College last Friday, there was little hoopla. He left the track and was immediately embraced by his father and coach, Michael Granville Sr. The two shared a few words and a few tears.

But there was no victory lap. There were no autograph seekers, and few of the meet’s other participants offered any congratulatory remarks. His winning time of 1 minute 46.45 seconds was not only the fastest by a high school athlete, but it also qualified him for the Olympic trials in Atlanta next week.

Still, the senior from Bell Gardens was mostly alone after the performance. The meet’s other Olympic trial qualifiers, sprinters Obea Moore of Pasadena Muir and Angela Williams of Chino, are better known by fans and are usually surrounded by a large entourage.

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“When we got home that night, our family just hugged each other and congratulated each other,” said Michael Sr. “But there was no big party or anything. We didn’t pop any champagne bottles. We’re not about fanfare.”

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Michael Sr. and his wife, DeLaura, married young and immediately began a family. When their fifth child, Mario-Max, was born in 1990, they had outgrown their apartment in Cudahy and were asked to leave by the landlord.

They moved across the 710 freeway to nearby Bell Gardens, settling into a three-bedroom apartment in a complex across the street from an elementary school.

By then, Michael Jr., the oldest child, and his father had already embarked on a track career that was producing numerous age-group records. The nearby school would serve as the new site for their daily training sessions.

Michael Sr. had been a gifted track athlete, winning a Southern Section title in the 400 in 1975 while attending Lynwood. He received a scholarship to Cal State Northridge and was off to a promising start before a back injury ended his athletic career.

He dropped out of college to work as an aerospace assembler to support his wife and son. He would find a new life in track through Michael Jr.

Since he was 11, when his father began entering him in youth races, Michael Jr. has recorded times that signaled a promising future. Before entering high school, he had run the 400 in 48.79 and the 800 in 1:56.3, both age-group records.

Before his son enrolled at nearby Bell Gardens High, Michael Sr. called the school to ask about its track program. Coach Fidel Elizarrez had won a few league titles, but no one from the school had ever qualified for the state meet. Elizarrez added that he had never heard of Michael Granville.

That changed in 1993, when Michael Jr. began running for the school. At the Arcadia Invitational that spring, he won the 800 in a national freshman record time of 1:51.61. A week later, at the Mt. San Antonio College Relays, he won the 400 in 48.40, also a national freshman record.

Michael Jr., 6 feet 1 and 180 pounds, has run everything from a 100 to a 1,600, establishing school records in every race. He qualified for the state meet all four years, winning titles in the 800 in 1994 and again this season.

His workouts, though, have always been away from the school, under the close supervision of his father. The bumpy grass field at the elementary school is hardly the ideal training ground, full of gopher holes and rocks. The adjacent 710 freeway provides plenty of noise and exhaust fumes.

Michael Sr., 39, often jogs alongside his son with a five-foot pipe to ward off the dogs from a neighboring housing complex.

“We don’t like staying too late because that’s when they turn all the dogs loose,” he said. “I try to get to the dogs before they get to Mike so they don’t disrupt the running.”

Although Michael Sr. had never coached before working with his son, his intricate strategies have produced exceptional results. His training sessions are planned three months in advance and scribbled in a black book that only he can decipher. He rambles off philosophies that are difficult to follow, except to Michael Jr., 18.

“I’ve never worked with anyone other than my dad,” he said. “That’s the right connection. We understand each other, and anybody else wouldn’t fit in this clique we have here. I buy into what he says because it always proves to be true.”

The plan has been to bring Michael Jr. along slowly, building a strong running base and making sure the work seemed fun.

“I told Mike that when this becomes a chore to hang it up and try something else,” Michael Sr. said. “It should never be a negative experience.”

All of the Granville children have been encouraged to try running, but their parents make sure to keep things in balance. Their apartment’s living room walls have just as many certificates for academic achievements as track medals.

Michael Jr. plans to study engineering and architectural design when he enters UCLA this fall on an athletic scholarship. He is ranked No. 6 in his class with a 3.99 grade-point average. He is a gifted artist, whose drawings and paintings have rated public display and been honored with several trophies.

ShaLaura Granville, Michael’s younger sister, is only 16 but will graduate with her brother as the class salutatorian. She skipped the eighth grade and will also attend UCLA this fall on a full academic scholarship.

She ran the 400 on Bell Gardens’ track team but has decided to concentrate on her studies at college.

“My wife and I could never afford to send our kids to a four-year college because we’re a poor family,” Michael Sr. said. “I told them they would have to achieve great things and get a scholarship to go to college, and they listened. I told them not to worry about the details, that those things would work themselves out a day at a time.”

Continued back problems have kept Michael Sr. from steady work for more than 10 years. The family spends its free time together, often reading the Bible.

Neighbors, friends and fellow students know little about Michael Jr.'s achievements, on and off the track. He says classmates are always surprised to hear he is an accomplished runner.

After setting the national record in the 800 last Friday, Michael Jr. said a few neighbors stopped to ask him about the race after reading a newspaper article about it.

“Most of the people around here think my dad and I just go over to the school to run because we have nothing else to do,” he said. “After all of these years, they don’t know a thing about me.”

Michael Sr. said he has never been approached by anyone wanting to recruit his son to a more prominent high school for track and field. Despite his son’s numerous achievements, he said few colleges came offering scholarships.

“Of the three colleges that pursued my son, two of them I had to call back and follow up on,” Michael Sr. said. “People probably think our phone has been ringing off of the hook, but that just hasn’t been the case.

“People don’t know our business, but to be honest, we don’t mind,” he said. “It has allowed us to do our business without interruptions.”

For the moment, Michael Jr. is spending his afternoons training with his father and waiting for his plane ticket to Atlanta for the Olympic trials to arrive in the mail. Michael Sr. said he is pulling together every resource he has to come up with the money to buy a ticket for himself so he can be with his son for his special moment.

“Michael is getting ready to move on and become his own man,” he said. “It’s time for me to see if my upbringing has been sufficient. I tend to think it has.”


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