They often crossed the finish line, winners and losers alike, screaming in agony. When they were losers, the screams of their parents and coaches were even louder.
The third annual East Coast Invitational age-group track meet held here this weekend was a two-day combined marathon and torture test for all involved - competitors, coaches, parents, officials and spectators.
There were 91 teams and 1,350 athletes ages 7 to 17 competing in a total of 330 races plus field events.
The meet was put together by Bob Rothenberg, track coach at Fairmont Heights High School, and Buzz Ryan, who works for the Democratic Party in Maryland.
"Most of the big championship and national meets are held on the West Coast, and there aren't many Eastern kids who get to run in them," Ryan explained. "A few years ago, I was at a meet that Bob was running and we got to talking about the situation, I said, 'Hey, how about putting together a big meet of our own for the East.' That started things."
The first meet was held with nearly 500 competitors in 1975. Many national titlists were in the field this year as youngsters came from 13 states to take part.
The competition was fierce. And with kids as young as 7 and 8 running events like the 880 and the mile, there were bound to be painful moments.
One 8-year-old running the 880 Saturday literally dove across the finish line to beat another runner. He came up with a badly scraped knee but immediately asked, "Did I make sixth?" The first six finishers received awards.
"Finishing seventh is a lot more painful than finishing second," one coach commented. In this particular case, the youngster with the scraped knee had finished seventh. He burst into tears and was immediately consoled by several fellow competitors.
Tears flowed easily. When 9-year-old Voytek Kupczyk from Raleigh, N.C., crossed the finish line as an unexpected winner in the 880, he fell into an official's arms sobbing in disbelief. "I never thought I could go that fast," he said later.
But today when Kupczyk won the 440, his reaction was almost blase. He threw his arms up as he broke the tape and calmly walked from the track.
Even those who are consistent winners face moments of frustration. Beth Hanlon of the Olney Track Club won the 7-and-under 880 by more than 100 yards Saturday, but was a badly beaten third in the 100 today.
"I like to run sprints more than distance," Beth insisted. "But I guess I'm better at distances." She sat silently by herself after the 100 and did not smile as her mother took a picture of her with the first- and second-place finishers.
It was a long two days for everyone. Some events took more than three hours to complete and others were delayed by late-appearing contestants, false starts and other problems inevitable in such a meet.
But when it was all over, few had any complaints.
All of the youngsters who were asked if they wanted to return gave rousing answers in the affirmative. Their parents were not quite as sure. One boy looked up at his father as they left and asked "Are we coming back next year?" The father smiled, but did not answer.
There were a number of local winners today.
Juanita Alson of District Heights set a meet record in winning the girls' 14-15 long jump; Jay Diamond of Bowie won the boys' 12-13 long jump; Larry Rosen of the D.C. Striders completed a double, adding the boys' 16-17 discus to his title Saturday in the shot put; David Saunders of the D.C. CYO also doubled, winning today's boys' 14-15 440 to go with the 880; Monica Roy of the D.C. CYO was another two-time winner, adding the girls' 8-9 mile today to her win in the 880 Saturday; Davida Jackson of the Cavalettes won the girls' 10-11 mile; Wayne Williams of Oxon Hill the boys' 10-11 mile, and Jeannette Kelly of the D.C. CYO the girl's 12-13 mile.
Earlier, Darrin Smith of Model Cities won the boys' 8-9 100 and Derrick Strickland of the Cavaliers won the boy's 14-15 100.
The meet's top performances were turned in by Jennie Gorham of Kansas City, who won the girls' 14-15 100, 220 and 440 and broke meet records easily in all three races, and Helene Connell of Atlantic City, N.J., who won the girls' 16-17 discus with a toss of 165 feet 4 inches - more than seven feet better than the existing national