Patuxent boys' track coach and athletic director Valerie Harrington expected to be the envy of teams around the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference when she unveiled her new high-tech starting pistol at Thursday's track and field tri-meet with Westlake and Leonardtown. Instead, Harrington was the target of so many gripes that by meet's end even she couldn't help but laugh.
"Here I was thinking I'd be queen, and it turns out I'm nothing but the devil," Harrington said. "Do you think I can box it up and send it back?"
Considering she paid about $300 for the Speed Start, which is promoted as a revolutionary starting system with audible, flash and timing capabilities, area teams will have to get used to the new sound -- a beep rather than a pop. That was something all three teams -- despite their grumbles -- learned to do Thursday.
Westlake's girls, on the strength of their overall depth, turned in a 79.5-61.5 victory over Leonardtown to emerge as the favorite in the SMAC race. This despite Raiders' senior Kelly Ennis capturing individual wins in the 100, 200, 400 and long jump.
Patuxent, with senior Susan Hendrick controlling the distance events, finished third with 34 points.
"Our goal is to win states at the end of the year," Leonardtown Coach Shawn Snyder said. "We take this more as an exhibition. Yes, we want to win every meet, but the way we score points will make us a much better team in big meets. Westlake is much deeper than we are, which makes them better in these small meets.
"They have all events filled with quality people where we have one or two exceptional athletes."
On the boys' side, Patuxent took nine of 17 first-place finishes to pull out an 82-70 win over a Westlake team that is sprinter- and jumper-heavy but lacks distance runners.
Patuxent junior Paul Travers led his team with individual victories in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200, and senior T.J. Foley added wins in the shot put and discus.
Westlake junior Jared Fagan, meanwhile, won the 100 and 200, and anchored the Wolverines to wins in the 4x100 and 4x200. Senior Rob Lester took victories in the long and triple jumps.
Leonardtown placed third with 23 points, its lone individual win coming in the high jump.
"I knew at the beginning of the season I didn't have a lot of depth, but I do have a little bit sprinkled around," Harrington said. "And we do have some strength in the distance events and throws, and that's where we got our big points. Paul just looked unbelievable today. He ran three very smart races."
It helped that Travers and the other distance runners were less affected by the change in starting signals than the sprinters and hurdlers. Unlike the typical starting pistols, which fire blanks, Patuxent's new Speed Start lets out a high-pitched, piercing beep to signal the start of a race. No one at Thursday's meet said the new sound affected the outcome of individual races or team totals, but most said it slowed times that would have been unusually fast because of wind-aided conditions.
"I wasn't really getting a jump out of the blocks because I'm used to that 'pow' sound," Fagan said. "It was hard."
Ennis added, "I think we were all late in reacting to it."
Westlake Coach Beth Shook, a friend and colleague of Harrington, compared the new starting device to a dog whistle.
"I know she meant well when she bought it," Shook said. "And if they were dogs they'd be running around the track fast because they'd be so scared . . . but it just didn't work so well for the kids."