As a 13-year-old freshman at Paul Junior High School, Tomi (Pebbles) Rucker broke the women's long-jump record at the University of Maryland with a phenomenal 20-foot-7-inch leap at the Women's Invitational Track Meet held there in April 1979.
That performance, one of the longest jumps in the nation that year by a secondary school girl, won the admiration of Maryland assistant track coach Bill Goodman, who was officiating at the event. It was the beginning of a friendship that led to Rucker's signing last month to attend Maryland on a full athletic scholarship.
"I got good vibes from him," said Rucker, who was voted the most versatile female track athlete in the Washington area last year by The Washington Star and The Washington Post. "He has been more than just a coach. He's been a real friend. He was always very positive and he gave me a great deal of confidence."
"Tomi has proven that she has all the tools: speed, strength and smarts," Goodman said in reciprocal admiration. "She is very street-wise. She has the inner-city background that allowed her to grow up faster than most people."
Rucker has been forced to abandon attacking the record books in her years at Coolidge High School. Coolidge's women's squad is so small that she has not been able to concentrate on her better events: the long jump and the hurdles.
In the D.C. Relays in May, she competed in five events in three hours. She ran on winning relay teams in the 440-yard relay and shuttle-hurdles, and on the second-place team in the 880-yard relay. She also high jumped 5 feet and long jumped 18-11 as the Colts won both relay events and the team title.
"I haven't even been practicing the long jump this year," said Rucker, nicknamed "Pebbles" because she was born on the same day as Pebbles Flintstone, a television cartoon character.
"The team needs a lot of help and it allows me to run for a lot of strength and work on my technique over the hurdles," she said.
The Coolidge girls defeated second-place McKinley Tech at the D.C. public school track and field championships last month. Rucker won the long jump and the 100-meter hurdles and placed second in the high jump.
At the Interhigh East-West meet, Coolidge again defeated McKinley for the team title as Rucker won the 200-meter and the 330-yard hurdles. At the Penn Relays in April, she won the high school long jump, leaping 19-7, a jump listed fourth among high school girls last month in the May issue of Track and Field News.
Goodman, 28, an intense, dedicated coach, is a 1975 Maryland graduate. He was two-time Atlantic Coast Conference long-jump champion and the IC4A (Intercollegiate Association of Amateur Athletics in America) and Penn Relays champ in 1975. His best long-jump effort was 25-4 in 1973, the sixth best jump in the country. He was team cocaptain in his junior and senior years.
Goodman returned to Maryland in 1976 to coach the horizontal (long and triple) jumps. As a coach he has produced three All-Americans.
"Goody is the best technical horizontal-jump coach in the country," said former Maryland head track coach Frank Costello, once the national high-jump champion for Maryland. "He understands the person just as well as the athlete. He has always been able to relate very well with his athletes."
"As a coach and a person, I want to do God's work, which is my work," said Goodman. "We are here for a purpose. You only live once, so I'd like to do something now so when I'm 65 I can look back and say that I really accomplished something."
Rucker, who would like to compete in the long jump in the 1984 Olympics, said track "gives me a lot of respect from my peers. It allows me to carry myself respectfully. When I'm around my friends and they're drinking or smoking, they try to hide it."
Ultimately, Rucker would like to compete in the pentathlon, a five-event competition, in the 1988 Olympics. Not all her ambitions are athletic, however. "I'm really looking forward to getting my degree in four years," she said. She plans to major in communications.
Even though Rucker has proven herself worthy of it, she has had limited national experience relative to her ability. She has qualified for the national junior championships each year in high school, but never could afford to go, she said.
Rucker's father, John Cook, who made the All-High baseball teams in 1952 and 1953 while at Coolidge, said he had hoped his daughter would attend Georgetown University.
"I grew up in there," he said. But after meeting Goodman, he was satisfied with her choice. "He Goodman really impressed me."
"We don't know yet how we want to use Rucker ," said Maryland's head coach, Stan Pitts. "She is a proven sprinter and she . . . would like to try the 400 hurdles. And she'll probably try the pentathlon. She has great range."
"The best thing about getting Pebbles is she will provide a good challenge for Tamela Penny," said Pitts. Penny, a Maryland freshman, is a national-caliber long jumper (20-3) and high jumper who holds the Maryland women's long-jump record. "If you have two people of high quality in one event, they will be constantly pushing each other."