Tennessee State women's coach Chandra Cheeseborough often makes her athletes write book reports on the team's rich track and field history, so when the Tiger Belles' distance medley relay team won the first event at yesterday's inaugural Historically Black Colleges Invitational, senior Mercy Udoji was keenly aware of the significance.
"Going back, the Tiger Belles were one of the first few black schools to have a team. The Tiger Belles were women's track," said Udoji, who teamed with Raeven Richards, Crystal Ewell and Monique Demmons on the winning team. "Us winning this was a good beginning. This whole event was a good idea."
The first track and field meet for historically black colleges and universities drew 20 teams from across the nation to the Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex in Landover, and there were plenty of noteworthy performances on the opening day of the two-day event.
Southern University senior Brian Johnson, a small forward on the Jaguars' basketball team, won the long jump with a leap of 24 feet 9.25 inches and notched the fastest time in the 60-meter dash trials (6.77 seconds). It was Johnson's first 60 ever, and came with only three days of track practice. He played for Southern's basketball team Tuesday against Centenary.
Morgan State's Sharronda Boone edged teammate Mariama Gondo for the top spot in today's women's 60-meter final, and Columbia native Cynthia Nicholls (Long Reach) of Hampton University won the high jump (5-7.75) and finished second in the long jump (18-9) behind Howard's LaClaire Carter (18-10.5).
But in terms of historical significance, the Tiger Belles' win had the most meaning. Boasting 40 Olympians, including Wilma Rudolph and Wyomia Tyus, the Tiger Belles are credited as the pioneers of women's track and field in this country.
"We are glad we do have something like this meet established," said Cheeseborough, a two-time Olympic gold medalist and former Tiger Belles standout. "At Tennessee State, we always keep our history alive. It's something we always do. We have been around a long time and we hope to continue the history and the rich traditions that were started a long time ago."
Southern University may have had the longest trip to the meet, arriving Friday after a 26-hour bus ride from Baton Rouge, La., but the Jaguars made the trip pay off. Silvers Fultz and Carole Mitchell went 1-2 in the women's weight throw, and Rayla Hunt was first in the women's 3,000 (11 minutes 32.52 seconds). Jamie McClendon was the top qualifier in the men's 60-meter hurdles, finishing in 8.09.
Hampton University's David Blue won the men's 5,000 in 16:24.80 and helped the Pirates' distance medley to first place in 10:29.38. Kellie Wells of Hampton was the top qualifier in the women's 60-meter hurdles in 8.80.
Tiffany Barnes of Delaware State was the top women's qualifier in the 400 in 55.75 and teammate Joshwyn Abrams was the top men's qualifier, running 49.50. Shaniqua Hector of Tennessee State won the pole vault (9-0).