Nine Southern Maryland Athletic Conference athletes emerged with gold medals, and five won silvers at the 3A state track and field championships Thursday at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. But the real hero of the opening day of competition was not an athlete, but a principal.

Patuxent seniors such as Randy Belt, the 3A East region champion in the pole vault and 300 hurdles, originally thought they would have to choose between attending the high school's graduation -- which was scheduled from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at The Show Place Arena -- and the state meet, which officially began at 3:30 p.m. at UMBC.

Belt and his teammates had said they would go to the track meet and miss their graduation. But that was before Panthers boys track coach Valerie Harrington -- who figured out that none of the athletes' events began until 5:30 p.m. -- approached school Principal Robert Dredger for help.

Dredger promised to put the five senior track athletes who qualified for the state meet -- Belt, Tony Askew, Ryan Campbell, Greg Gross and Candice Jones -- at the front of the graduation line and get them across stage, diploma in hand, and out the door midway through the ceremony at 3:30 p.m.

"We had it all planned, but then things started going wrong," Harrington said. "The lights went out, the fire alarm went off . . . all these things that took time. But I saw Mr. Dredger look at his watch, and after one of the speeches he stopped everything, asked the photographers to come up and said, `I made a promise to get these five athletes to the state track meet on time.' So they got up, walked across the stage, did the thing with their hats and everything. And they all made it here on time."

SMAC Athletes Excel

Thirty-nine SMAC athletes placed in the top six of their respective events Thursday. The conference also dominated many of the opening-day field events, taking three or more of the top six positions in every field event that was held: girls triple jump, girls pole vault, girls discus, boys long jump, boys shot put, boys high jump and boys pole vault.

Leading the way were Calvert's KC Allen (pole vault), Northern's Chris Parsons (shot put) and Leonardtown's Helen Young (discus) -- who all successfully defended their state titles.

Allen won her fourth straight state pole vault title with a leap of 11-0, just the second time she has reached that height outdoors. Parsons finished four inches ahead of Thomas Stone's Tim Bilmanis, the defending state champion in discus, with a heave of 54-11. Young needed a great final toss to beat Wilde Lake's Tolikia Wilson, but did so with a throw of 116-1.

In addition to the defending champions, two other individuals emerged with individual state championships. Great Mills senior Malcolm Reynolds won the boys high jump with a leap of 6-10, easily surpassing second-place finishers Terrence Brown of Patuxent and Jamar Nolan of Chopticon, who tied for second at 6-4.

Reynolds attempted to break the state record of 7-0 with a leap of 7-0 1/4, but came up just short on all three attempts. Patuxent junior Alton West jumped a school record and personal best of 21-7 1/2 to win the boys long jump.

The other first-place finisher Thursday was the boys 4x200 relay team from Westlake. Senior D'Ron Baldwin ran the opening leg of the race, followed by sophomore Recardo Evans, junior Quincy Wilson and junior Gonzie Gray.

Gray, who qualified for the state finals in the 100- and 200-meter races, closed out the last leg for a time of 1:28.31, two seconds faster than the team's qualifying mark at the 3A South region meet.

Maryland 3A State Championships

A list of Southern Maryland Athletic Conference track and field athletes who finished in the top six at the opening day of competition.

BOYS

3,200 -- 4. Carlos Hunt, Westlake, 9:45.8; 6. Will Christian, Great Mills, 10:06.6. 4x200 -- 1. Westlake, 1:28.3; 5. Patuxent, 1:32.4. High jump -- 1. Malcolm Reynolds, Great Mills, 6-10; 2. Terrence Brown, Patuxent, 6-4; 2. Jamar Nolan, Chopticon, 6-4; 4. Rob Harris, Westlake, 6-2. Long jump -- 1. Alton West, Patuxent, 21-7; 2. Sean Soni, Thomas Stone, 21-5; 3. Ron Perry, Westlake, 21-3. Shot put -- 1. Chris Parsons, Northern, 54-11; 2. Tim Bilmanis, Thomas Stone, 50-9; 4. John Rolle, Westlake, 48-8; 5. Brian Johnson, Patuxent, 47-10. Pole vault -- 2. Randy Belt, Patuxent, 12-6; 3. Adam Leach, Northern, 12-6; 4. Wes Dargan, Calvert, 12-6; 5. Scott Jaster, Great Mills, 11-6.

GIRLS

4x800 -- 6. Leonardtown, 10:00.1. Triple jump -- 3. Tiffani Blackwell, Leonardtown, 36-3; 5. Jewel Clark, Thomas Stone, 35-8; 6. Nailah Betts, Westlake, 34-11. Discus -- 1. Helen Young, Leonardtown, 116-1; 3. Melinda Kerr, Westlake, 110-5; 4. Kristin Davidson, Leonardtown, 108-4; 6. Jessica Whalen, Thomas Stone, 102-8; Pole vault -- 1. KC Allen, Calvert, 11-0; 2. Marsha Day, Leonardtown, 10-0; 3. Tricia Shepard, La Plata, 8-5; 5. Sarah Sowell, Calvert, 8-6; 6. Katherine Sweeney, Leonardtown, 8-6.

CAPTION: Leonardtown's Kristin Davidson, above, competes in the finals of the discus, which was won by Helen Young, also of Leonardtown. At left, Patuxent's Randy Belt clears the bar during pole vault finals. Belt placed second in the event with a height of 12-6.