At first, Rachel Clinton couldn't bear to watch two heats of the 110-meter hurdles at the Class 1A State Track and Field Championships at UMBC Stadium yesterday.
The junior standout runner from Oakland Mills placed a hand over her eyes and playfully warned a friend that she might start crying.
But Clinton did watch and considered how she would have done against the fastest time of 15.8 seconds.
"That was good," said Clinton, who ran a 14.6 at the Howard County Championships. "I was glad someone broke 16 [seconds]."
What might have sounded like sour grapes was closer to wishful thinking as the Oakland Mills track team felt the effects yesterday of missing its region meet two Wednesdays ago.
The Scorpions, winners of six state championships in the last eight years, missed the Class 1A South region track meet on May17, because coach Sam Singleton believed the meet was the next day.
Oakland Mills, widely considered a sprint powerhouse, was allowed to compete in yesterday's state championships but not in the 100, 200, and high hurdles.
That the school was allowed to participate at all was due to a decision by the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association. The MPSSAA, which oversees the state track championships, allowed Oakland Mills to compete in the Class 1A South region track meet at Williamsport High on May 19.
But the team - barred from winning a team title or individual ribbons - ran only in events that had state qualifying times and were not decided by preliminary heats. The MPSSAA denied Singleton's proposal to qualify his sprinters and hurdlers who could beat or match the average of the top six finishes at the previous three state championships.
While the girls' hopes for a state crown were severely hampered by the ban, the boys team is still in contention in a competition that continues today.
The Scorpions have at least one male entrant in 11 of 15 events in which they are eligible.
Coaches from other schools were generally accepting of the MPSSAA's decision, but some wondered aloud if a similar exception would have been granted to a school that did not have Oakland Mills' track reputation.
"My opinion was that if we had not shown up for the regionals, we wouldn't have been allowed to compete [in the state championships] at all," said Brunswick coach Rich Wells. "I think we would've been sitting at home."
Southern-Garrett coach Steve Cudner said he was worried that the exemption might set a troublesome precedent.
"What happens if a coach says, 'Hey, I don't have any sprinters. Why don't I miss this regional and go to another where I'm stronger in the other events?'" he said. "We have to make sure that something like this doesn't happen again."
Ned Sparks, MPSSAA executive director, did not return requests for comment. But Singleton said he would have no qualms about granting an exception to another team under similar circumstances.""This was for the kids," Singleton said. "You can't blame the kids for a coach's mistake, and it was an honest mistake."
Kyle Farmer, an Oakland Mills junior and the 1999 All-Metro Track Performer of the Year, agreed. "Everybody makes mistakes," said Farmer, who won eight gold medals in his first two seasons but was not able to compete in the 100 or 200. "We still have a chance to win a state title. There's just less room for error."
Oakland Mills' athletes and coach were in agreement when asked to describe their mission this weekend.
"We feel as though we've got to win it," Singleton said. "No one's going to roll over and give it to us, but we know what it takes to win."