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High school athletes spend summer with animals, sailing and more

With heat rising in recent weeks, local students are traveling, volunteering at shelters and more

By Katherine Dunn and Glenn Graham, The Baltimore Sun

5:47 PM EDT, July 6, 2012

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With high temperatures soaring above 90 degrees across the Baltimore region in recent weeks, it wouldn't be surprising to see high school students relaxing in their air-conditioned homes for the entire summer, playing video games and other indoor activities as they await the start of a new school year.

But these local athletes are finding different ways to beat the heat — from spending time on the water to traveling out of the country to caring for animals and more.

Tasmine Prater, Parkville
Track, cross country
Nia Williams, Patapsco
Track, basketball, cheerleading

With their summer jobs, Tasmine Prater and Nia Williams can't stay inside as the temperature climbs, but they're in the next best place — on the water, sailing near the Inner Harbor.

Working as assistant sailing instructors at the Downtown Sailing Center, Prater, a rising senior at Parkville, and Williams, a rising junior at Patapsco, have the perfect summer job.

"Before I did this, I went on a sailing expedition, which was pretty neat," Prater said. "Ever since, I just got interested in the idea of sailing, in moving over water with the sailboat, which sounds kind of strange, but I just like the feel of it, the excitement and all."

Neither Prater nor Williams, who both run track, had ever thought about sailing until they went through the Bridges program at St. Paul's, which offers summer programs and eventually summer jobs to underserved urban children. As a partner with Bridges, the Downtown Sailing Center offers some of those job opportunities.

Last June and July, Prater and Williams spent seven weeks in the Sailing Instructor Training (S.I.T.) program, learning the basics of sailing as well as leadership and team-building skills. Both were eager to come back this year.

Lynn Handy, the Downtown Sailing Center's outreach manager, said the two Baltimore County athletes should earn their Level 1 certification with the U.S. Sailing Association and become full instructors by the end of next summer.

In the Bridges program, Williams said, children getting ready for high school go to potential employment sites to learn what might work best for them.

"We tell them what we like to do, do we like to work with kids or do we like to do certain other things. The things that I said [were] similar to what I'm doing at the Downtown Sailing Center, which is teaching people how to sail — whether it's kids or people with disabilities. I really like it," said Williams, who also plays basketball and is a cheerleader. She attends Patapsco for the school's magnet program for dance.

Prater, who also runs cross country at Parkville, went on a 21-day Outward Bound sailing expedition off the coast of Maine last summer before starting his training.

"It's pretty exciting just managing the boat overall," Prater said. "It's a bunch of aspects to be aware of, like points of sail. You have to check the wind, you have to always look around you for other boats, and it teaches you a lot about management overall."

For Williams, however, her first time on a sailboat was at the center.

"When I first started I was scared because I never worked with boats, but they set it up where it was fun learning," she said. "They teach you parts of the boat and they may have little competitions where, say you're learning how to tie knots to tie the boat down or doing a race to write down all the parts of the boat. Even when you're on the water, they have a course and you and another boat might race different sails and stuff. It was fun learning, so I knew I'd like to come back."

Handy said both young sailors have excelled at their training.

"It was a pretty intense program last year and they just really shine," she said. "Nia just picked up sailing like nobody's business and Tasmine is someone who is incredibly dedicated to the sport. They have great ability to work with kids, and they have a great work ethic."

Both 16-year-olds hope to go to college at Maryland — Prater to become an engineer and eventually a pilot and Williams to become a pediatrician — and both want to keep sailing.

"If it wasn't for coming to [the Downtown Sailing Center]," Prater said, "I probably wouldn't have any idea about sailing and wouldn't be involved in it at all. I think it's something everybody can enjoy and everybody should try it at least once."

Pegah Bahar, McDonogh
Soccer, swimming, softball

Going on vacations and visiting family members who live abroad, Pegah Bahar, a rising junior at McDonogh, has already seen a good chunk of the world — including Italy, England, France, Germany and Turkey.

This summer, she is excited to add another globe-trotting experience — a trip to Tajikstan, a country in Central Asia, as part of a U.S. Department of State program to study the language (Persian) and culture. Both of Bahar's parents speak Persian, she said.

The National Security Language Initiative for Youth program provides full merit-based scholarships for high school students to learn less commonly taught languages.

Bahar is spending six weeks in Tajikstan — from June 19 through Aug. 2. The first two weeks are spent in group housing with other students and the final month with a host family.

"This is such a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience," Bahar said. "I love studying new languages and my parents have introduced me to so many new cultures, so it's really exciting."

Bahar maintains a 4.2 GPA and plans to study pre-med to become a surgeon.

Sarah Coccia, Perry Hall
Golf

As a little girl, Sarah Coccia loved going to the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore for its summer camps, so when she had a chance to be part of the Junior Zoo Crew, she jumped at it.

After learning about zoo careers, wildlife and conservation, and other topics during a four-week stretch last summer, Coccia and a few others were invited to stay on as long-term volunteers. On Saturdays and Sundays, she gives educational talks and chats with visitors in the Maryland Wilderness section.

"I'm a junior interpreter," said Coccia, a rising junior at Perry Hall. "That means we will go in front of exhibits and we'll typically bring what we call a bio fact, which is an otter pelt or a fox skeleton, to show people. We'll talk about each animal and tell guests about them."

For the 16-year-old, the bat cave is a favorite.

"It's fun to interpret there and bats are really, really cool animals that can be taken from several different angles, so you don't have to say the same thing over and over again. With bats you can go with echolocation or you can talk about their relatives or about the exhibit itself or about what they eat."

Coccia also enjoys variety in her summer activities.

In addition to playing golf two or three days a week, she is a figure skater, practicing a couple of times a week and competing periodically. She also volunteers with the Vacation Bible Camp at her church, St. Michael the Archangel in Overlea, and spends a week as a counselor at a performing arts camp for kids.

Hunter Cox, Meade
Football, swimming, baseball

The soon-to-be senior linebacker will get a workout just moving from one activity to the next during a jam-packed summer that includes two of his favorite sports.

On many weekdays, Hunter Cox will be up by 6 a.m. to get to the Meade weight room for an hour of weightlifting. Then, it's out to the Mustangs' stadium for an hour of 7-on-7 practice. Then, he spends an hour speed training. After that, it's off to the Russett Community Pool in Laurel, where he spends the next 10 hours as a lifeguard.

Cox, 16, will also attend a handful of football camps. Youngstown State, Cornell, Lehigh and Fairmont State are all on his schedule as he looks for not only the right fit for his football skills but also the right fit for his educational aspirations. He plans to become a civil engineer.

"I just love watching things come together and being able to build them. Someday, I'd like to design a bridge or some other major project," he said.

With a 4.31 GPA, Cox has several other Ivy League schools, including Harvard, on his radar.

In addition to the camps, and several 7-on-7 events, Cox competes for the Russett swim team. Although he has been a lifeguard for only a few weeks, he has always been comfortable around the water.

"My mom is the swim coach [at Russett] and I've been able to swim 25 yards since I was 2," he said. "This is my first year as a lifeguard. I needed a job, and I guess this was the best thing to do. All my friends are lifeguards. It's a fun experience; you get your first job and you pretty much protect people from drowning."

Danielle Hogarth, Bryn Mawr
Soccer

Danielle Hogarth, a rising junior at Bryn Mawr, has found an ideal way to help in Haiti, her father's native country. It starts with sharing her love of soccer.

The All-Metro second-team midfielder and her family will spend the first week of August in Haiti, bringing some Freestate Soccer Club teammates to run a soccer clinic. Her father, Jean-Max, is an anesthesiologist who will provide medical assistance as the country continues to recover from the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake in January 2010. The trip is in conjunction with Community Coalition for Haiti.

Hogarth has also started a drive to collect athletic apparel to bring for the people in the country.

"I've always wanted to give back to what soccer has given me, and this is a great way to do that," said Hogarth, who has helped Bryn Mawr to victory in the past two Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland B Conference championships. "I'm really looking forward to seeing the country and helping the kids and people affected by the earthquake."

Bel Air defender Caroline Lozzi, who will be a junior in the fall, and Archbishop Spalding midfielder Gracyn Bryant, a senior, also will make the trip.

Brianna Mellerson, Randallstown
Softball

Brianna Mellerson has wanted a puppy for her entire life, but she and her three siblings haven't been able to persuade their father to adopt a pet. So she found the next best thing — volunteering at the Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown.

Mellerson, 14, who will be a sophomore at Randallstown in the fall, cares for the cats, kittens and rabbits at the complex. She isn't old enough to work with the dogs, but she plans to stick around until she can.

"Since I'm an animal lover," she said, "it makes you feel really good when you help out an animal because you don't know what they've been through before they got there. I just rub them and try to make them feel comfortable."

Mellerson, a pitcher and shortstop for the Rams varsity team, fits volunteering in around a busy summer of softball that includes a week of camp and playing with her Reisterstown Thunder club team four days a week.

She and her sister, LaShawn, a rising senior and the Rams catcher, try to make it to the Humane Society a couple of days a week when their athletic and academic demands allow. LaShawn also spent some time earlier this summer on a student exchange trip to China.

In the meantime, the sisters and their 6-year-old brother, Grant, will keep trying to see whether they can finally talk their father into getting a puppy.

"I would love to have a dog," Mellerson said. "He had a dog and he had a bunny, too, so I'm like, 'Can I have some of the fun?'"

Michael Seaberg, South River
Swimming

When he was 9 years old and just starting to swim, Michael Seaberg's most notable recollection was competing on a relay team for his Crofton team in the Central Maryland Swimming League.

He will tell you he wasn't the best swimmer then but that being part of a team was cool.

These days, as a rising senior at South River, Seaberg's enthusiasm for the sport remains the same and the work he has put into it has paid big dividends.

Representing South River in the Class 4A-3A state championships, he took second place in the 100-meter breaststroke. A member of the Naval Academy Aquatic Club the past six years, he won the 100- and 200-meter breaststroke at the Maryland Swimming Championships in March.

Still swimming at the Crofton Country Club, Seaberg is equally enthusiastic about sharing his passion of the sport this summer. He's working as an assistant coach with 12-and-under and 10-and-under swimmers.

His time in the Naval Academy program has given him a wealth of knowledge regarding the techniques for the different strokes. Seaberg also wants to stress the importance of being confident in yourself and having fun.

"It's cool to coach at the club I've been swimming at all these years and I'm excited to be a part of it," he said. "It's really rewarding, and I think that goes for teaching anything you may love and do well in. I want to share the things I've learned with the kids, and hopefully they can grow to love swimming as much as I do."

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

glenn.graham@baltsun.com

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