Girls high school high jumpers in the District beware: Tanya Hughes is coming your way. And she's got the credentials of a budding star.
Her winning jump of 5 feet 9 in the 14-15 age group at the 21st annual Youth Games held recently at Gallaudet College was one of the top jumps for a junior high school (or high school) girl in the area this year. The jump was only five inches less than the national age group record for 15-year-olds (6-2, set by Angie Bradburn of Ossian, Ind., in 1985 and Mary Moore of Issaquah, Wash., in 1981.)
Hughes will be a sophomore this fall, but has not yet determined which District high school she will attend.
Several weeks ago, Hughes won the East Coast Invitational meet at Towson State University with a jump of 5-7. Last year, she was ranked third by Starting Line magazine in the youth girls category with a leap of 5-6.
Hughes is not a one-event potential star. She also won the long jump at the Youth Games with a jump of 17-4, defeating an excellent field that included nationally ranked Tara Watson of New York's Starlets Track Club. Watson finished third at the Youth Games with a best jump of 17-0.
Hughes, 15, grew up in Northeast D.C. and still lives there, although for personal reasons she is currently living with an aunt. She asked for a Youth Games' tryout after watching the Washington track team practice at Gallaudet. She immediately impressed the coaches and was given a spot on the team.
"She had her rhythm going and she got a good jump," said assistant coach Adrian Dixon, who coaches at Coolidge during the school year. "She had a good day for jumping."
Participating in the week-long Youth Games was a valuable experience for Hughes and many other youngsters.
For instance, Melanie Blackness of Oxon Hill and Tasha Whitted of Ballou were two of the top area sophomores in the 100-meter dash and 300-meter intermediate hurdles, respectively, this past school year. Participating in this year's Youth Games should give them a tremendous boost for next year's scholastic outdoor season.
"The experience will help me," said Blackness, who finished third in the 14-15 100 meters in 12.78. Whitted finished second in the 200 meters in 26.32.
For Veronica Harris, the competition she faced in the 400 meters in the Youth Games will probably be stronger than what she will face as a member of the La Reine High School team next spring.
"High school track is a lot easier than summer track," said Harris, who came in fourth in the 14-15 400 meters in 59.50. She has seen the Youth Games track program grow into a competitive meet during the last six years.
"There's definitely competition now at the Youth Games," said Harris who competes for the Chillum Striders during the summer months. "Every team can now wipe you out in a minute."
Chauncey Lynch won a gold medal by winning the 14-15 800 meters in 2:03.3. Lynch is entering his sophomore season at Potomac (Md.) High. "I want to try to stay close with the pack enough to have a little sprint at the end," he said.
Other sophomores-to-be, Anthony Freeman of Eastern High and Elgin Gordon, won gold medals during the games. Freeman won the 14-15 100 meters in 11.4 and Gordon, who goes to Eleanor Roosevelt High in Greenbelt, won the 400 meters in 50.19.
The Youth Games experience was good for other youngsters besides those who competed in track and field. In volleyball, Van Luong, an eighth grader at Jefferson Junior High, was the key that led her team to a fourth place finish.
Luong did not play volleyball last year and this competition helped sharpen her basic skills. "She knows the game very well," said Youth Games volleyball Coach Richard Bachman.
Even though the boys 14-15 basketball team was dethroned during the competition, which was won by Baltimore, Coach Bob Gorham said his players benefited from the experience.
"Competing in the Youth Games gets them set for high school," he said. "The Youth Games was the best competition in the metropolitian area this summer."