When the Fifth Regiment Armory hosted the Maryland 4A Central Region indoor track championships two weeks ago, it wasn’t the competitors lined up next to her that worried Old Mill senior Alexis Franklin. What was bothering Franklin, an All-Met with blow-by-you acceleration, was the surface beneath her feet.
The concrete and tile floor inside the drill hall doubles as a track. It has a film of dust on top. It was as slippery as any surface Franklin, an Ohio State recruit, said she has competed on. And spikes are not allowed.
The painted lanes visible at the start were gone a few strides down the track. Track and field has strict rules about when runners must stay in their lanes and when they can leave them.
Yet for the most part it’s a free-for-all at the Fifth in midtown Baltimore, a facility completed in 1901 (and renovated in 1933).
“Why?” Franklin said she thought to herself before she won all three of her races, albeit with her slowest times of the season. “Why would you ever want to run here?”
Hundreds of the state’s top high school athletes didn’t have a choice.
The Maryland 1A/2A and 3A/4A indoor track state championship meets are being held Monday and Tuesday at the state-of-the-art Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex in Landover.
But six region championships were held at the Fifth Regiment Armory earlier this month.
High schools participating in indoor track in Maryland are divided into 12 regions across four classifications.
Each year, the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association rotates the sites for its region meets among the Fifth, PGS&L and Hagerstown Community College.
The disparity in the facilities is striking. In addition to a slippery surface, the Fifth lacks a jumping pit, meaning if you compete in the long or triple jumps during the season, you won’t get the chance to jump for a state title in those events during Monday’s 1A/2A state meet or Tuesday’s 3A/4A meet. PGS&L, meantime, is considered one of the top indoor tracks in the country and was home to the Nike Indoor Championships from 2001 to 2008.
“Right now, because of a lack of facilities we have to use the Armory,” said MPSSAA Executive Director Ned Sparks. “You know this year you’re going to compete in the Armory and next year you’re going to compete someplace else.”
It is a tacit admission that whoever ends up at the Armory on a given year is getting the short end of the stick.
The Fifth, primarily a working military facility with a Super Bowl-pregame-show-sized American flag hanging from the ceiling, started hosting high school meets in the early 1960s. Not a lot has changed since then.
There’s nowhere for spectators to sit. Athletes wipe their feet on damp towels before competing to get some sort of traction.
The Fifth is the cradle of indoor track in Maryland — it hosted the state meet until 1999 and many Baltimore-area schools still use it as their home facility — but Landover is the crown jewel. It seats almost 3,000. On its 200-meter Mondo-surfaced track, wearing spikes isn’t just allowed. It’s encouraged.
Wise senior All-Met Champ Page, who owns the third-fastest fastest time in the country in the 500 meters (1 minute 3.71 seconds), was undefeated in the event against Washington-area competition until two weeks ago when he ran his region meet at the Fifth.
Winning was never the priority, he said. The top four finishers in each race qualified for the state meet, so he skidded his way to a third-place finish.
“I haven’t seen 1:10 since my freshman year,” Page said, referring to his time, “but I did what I needed to do.”
The slipperiness factored into a disappointing moment for Bailee Freeman at the 4A West meet last week. The Clarksburg senior was already down two of her better events — the long jump and triple jump — so she really wanted to do well in the 55 hurdles.
However, Freeman slipped coming off the starting line and did not recover. She finished ninth in the prelims, .01 of a second off the last qualifying spot for the final, and isn’t eligible to compete at the state meet in the event.
“This,” Freeman said, “is the worst I ever did.”
With all its warts, the Armory has several redeeming qualities. It’s cost effective. Hosting a typical meet there costs about $800. The Virginia AAA Northwest Region held its championship last week at Landover and, according to meet director Dave Davis, it cost 10 times that amount.
Beyond the cost of renting the building, PGS&L is home to college events and practices as well as all-comers meets. It hosts 75 meets per year so, according to Sparks, there aren’t enough open dates to accommodate the MPSSAA’s needs.
“I think we’re getting soft in our old age,” said Clarksburg Coach Scott Matthias with a smile. “Do I love it? No. Do I rather [run at] PG? Yes. But a race is a race whether it’s faster or slower than at other places.”