The Los Angeles Olympic Games may be a memory in many towns, but in one Northern Virginia community the celebration began only yesterday.
That's when hundreds of Dale City residents turned out to honor Benita Fitzgerald-Brown, the gold medal winner in the 100-meter women's hurdles, in a two-hour parade and reception at the Prince William County high school she attended. Fitzgerald-Brown had gone to Europe immediately after the games, where she won two of four more races.
"We just love you, Benita," said state legislator David G. Brickley of Dale City as the crowd, gathered around a reviewing stand, roared its approval. Brickley presented her with a framed certificate from Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb. She also received a gold key to Dale City, and a red and white lei from the Prince William County School Board.
"This is really something else, I'll tell you," Fitzgerald-Brown said softly and laughed. "It makes my victory seem so much more real to me." She said later that it really made a diffence to see familiar faces in the crowd. "These are people I grew up with. It's great."
With her time of 12.84 seconds at the Olympics, Fitzgerald-Brown pulled a major upset. She became the first American woman in 52 years to win the gold medal in the hurdles.
"I just couldn't believe it when I saw her win. I was just jumping up and down and screaming," said Lisa Thomaidis, who has known Fitzgerald-Brown since eighth grade and attended Gar-Field High School with her.
"For everything she's accomplished, she hasn't changed a bit since I've know her," Thomaidis said. "She's not someone to let it go to her head."
Fitzgerald-Brown, 23, now lives in Knoxville where she is studying industrial engineering at the University of Tennessee, but she grew up in Dale City and local residents enthusiastically welcomed her back yesterday.
Hundreds lined Dale City Boulevard near Center Plaza and, as she approached a red convertible, the crowd started cheering "Benita." Fitzgerald-Brown smiled shyly, waving, shaking hands and signing autographs as the car slowly made its way to the reviewing stand. She seemed at times slightly embarrassed, but pleased by the attention.
She was wearing a red jump suit with the gold medal around her neck, and when she held up the gold for all to see, the crowd cheered.
"Ladies from Jazzercise" performed an exercise tribute to a song proclaiming: "Jazzercising, having the time of your life" as the audience clapped along. Cheerleaders from local schools chanted: "Benita, you're incredible" and "Benita's at the top."
And a pickup truck full of students passed Fitzgerald-Brown singing: "Hail to Benita. Hail victory. Over the hurdles. Gold For Dale City."
"You've seen a real slice of Americana here this morning," said Kathleen K. Seefeldt, the Democratic chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors.
Sitting next to Fitzgerald-Brown on the stand was Laron Brown, her husband of five months. "I'm having a great time," he said.
"It's been exhilarating," said her father Rodger Fitzgerald, a counselor at Gar-Field High. Her mother, Fannie Fitzgerald, is a resource teacher at Dale City Elementary School.
Both said they knew since Benita was in about the third grade that she might be an excellent athlete. "She would usually beat the boys."