The first time Scott Dunham tried to hit a baseball, the baseball hit back, smack in the face.

The first time Scott Dunham tried out for his track team, he ran a mile in seven minutes. His coach told him he wouldn't cut him from the team, but advised him to try something else.

The first time Scott Dunham leaped over a high jump bar, he knew he finally had found his event. He doesn't remember the height he cleared that day, but he does remember how wonderful it felt.

"I always considered track a sissy sport," said Dunham, a senior at Central High who has cleared 7 feet, an area record. "But I had to try something. Since I couldn't run, I looked for something else to do and decided to try the high jump. It looked easy."

High jumping has come easy ever since to the free-spirited Dunham, who says his hero is another long leaper, Dwight Stones. With little coaching, Dunham leaped 6-4 his sophomore year at Northern Burlington (N.J.) High and 6-8 the following year.

Dunham's family moved to this area a year ago from McGuire AFB, and now is finally geting some serious instruction.

"My old coach didn't know a thing about jumping so I actually taught myself," said Dunham, who is only 16. "My coach at Central, Ed Bowie, amazes me. He knows a lot about everything in track. He has really helped me."

Dunham, 6-foot-3 1/2 and 165 pounds, has cleared 6-10 a number of times in indoor meets. He, Westminster's Bob Smith and Desmond DeCosta of Overbrook, Pa., all jumped 6-10 1/2 at the Naval Academy meet in January to break the meet record by one-fourth of an inch.

Dunham then set the area mark to win the Maryland state Class A indoor championship. He missed three times at 7-1.

"I'm a consistent 6-10 jumper now. On a good day and everything is going right, I'll make 7-0," Dunham said. "I want to go at least 7-2 before the year is over. I'd love to do it at the Penn Relays. Smith, DeCosta and I are the only high school guys to clear 7 feet this year and they will be at Penn. I want them."

A fierce competitor, Dunham also says he loves to perform for the crowd. At the Falcon Invitational Saturday at Central, Dunham went over the 7-foot mark for the second time in his short career. He barely missed 7-1 on his first two tries.

When he wasn't jumping, Dunham offered advice and exhorted other jumpers. He also judged the girls' high jump event and constantly gave tips to jumpers willing to listen.

"I love to impress people," he said. "I really wanted to get 7-1. My strongest emotion is jealously. When I'm competing, I think of the high jump event as mine. Those other jumpers are trying to take it from me. That's like stealing and I don't let anyone take anything from me."

Dunham, who uses the flop style of jumping, shocked several people when he accepted a scholarship to attend George Mason in the fall.

"I wanted to stay here for a number of reasons," Dunham said. "I think Mason has a good track program and the jumping coach (Wade Privette) knows what he's talking about. And Mason shows a lot of team together-ness." k

Bowie says Dunham made a good choice, and that he has unlimited potential.

"He may gave gotten lost in the shuffle at those big schools that were after him," said Bowie, who handles both the girls' and boys' teams at the Prince George's County school. "Scott has never worked with weights and does not have a lot of speed. But he has that great vertical leap.He's on a strength program and we're working on his approach. He didn't need a lot of work when he came here."

Dunham has one serious superstition. He carries a long-handled bright green comb in the back pocket of his sweatsuit. Before each jump, he has to comb his hair.

Dunham warmed up for the track season this year by playing goalie for the Falcon soccer team. Every now and then he will long jump (20-0), triple jump (39-0) and, in desperation situations, run the 440.

"I run about a 56-second quarter," he said. "I don't mind since it's for the team. Besides, by doing all these other things, I have added to my medal collection.

"It's hard to believe track wasn't exciting to me before," he said. "I love it now. I can't wait until the Penn (Relays). I can't think of anything else but that gold watch they give the winners. Wow, winning at Penn. That would be something."