BERLIN - In a town this size, where the annual Delmarva Chicken Festival is the biggest event of the year, where most of the jobs are blue-collar and all the glitz is a few miles down the road and across the inlet in Ocean City, hometown heroes are hard to come by - harder still to give up on.
Yesterday, folks who have watched him since his days as a basketball and football star at Stephen Decatur High School said they can't believe the Cordrea Brittingham they know is the same person they've seen in newspaper headlines and on television reports.
It's been three years since the gifted athlete and honor student accepted an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. After seeing extensive action as a running back last year, Brittingham was expected to be a starter this fall.
Now those prospects are in jeopardy. Police in Anne Arundel County have charged Brittingham and another Navy football player in the rape and assault of an unconscious female midshipman at a party near Arnold early Friday morning. According to charging documents, the pair admitted to having sex with the 20-year-old woman, while she was "passed out" from drinking heavily at the party attended by about a dozen people.
Brittingham and Keith Williams, a cornerback from Detroit, were being held yesterday in Annapolis in lieu of bonds of $250,000 each. The suspects, both 21, are expected to appear today, via satellite, before a District Court judge for a bail review hearing.
Charged with second-degree rape and a third-degree sex offense, Brittingham could face a 30-year prison term. Charges of rape and second- and third-degree sex offenses against Williams carry a possible sentence of 50 years.
According to the police report, the female midshipman awoke in a bedroom to find the two athletes assaulting her in the spacious waterfront house in Arnold. After she pushed them away, they ran out of the room.
She checked herself into North Arundel Hospital, where sources familiar with the case said she showed signs of trauma. The Sun does not print the names of alleged rape victims.
It was not clear yesterday whether there was any supervision at the Thursday night party. Residents said they didn't hear any noise.
In Brittingham's hometown, many believe, hope, something must be wrong. Somehow, it must all be a terrible mistake.
"I don't know what's going on or what happened, but Cordrea has always been an All-American guy to us around here," said Jimmy Foreman, as he slathered barbecue sauce on chicken for a family cookout. "He's not that type of a guy. I'd bet my life on that."
Raised in a large, two-story brick house in a predominantly black middle-class neighborhood a mile from the high school football field where he won honors, Brittingham is one of three children in a well-known Berlin family.
His father, Elroy, owns two sports apparel stores in Delaware and has served for a decade as town councilman. His mother, Teola, works for the Postal Service.
"His mom and dad are close personal friends; I can't tell you how badly we all feel for them," said Berlin Mayor Rex Hailey. "He comes from a warm, caring family; he dated the same girl for three years in high school. I don't know what happened, but I know it does not fit with the rest of Cordrea's life. That much I'm sure of."
Brittingham, a 5-foot-10-inch, 175-pound running back, set single-season records of 1,553 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns for the Stephen Decatur High School Seahawks in 1996. A straight-A student who graduated in 1997, he attended the Naval Academy's preparatory school in Rhode Island before moving to the Annapolis campus in 1998.
"It's a real blow to watch him on television," said Velda Henry, a family friend. "It's hard to believe. Nobody wants to believe it."
Down the street from the Brittingham's house at the basketball courts at Dr. William Henry Park, many are suspicious of the arrests of the two young black athletes, says Julius Duffy, who was a freshman at Decatur when Brittingham was a senior.
"I'm not sure anybody around here believes it," Duffy said. "He's not somebody who would hurt a girl, and he always had plenty of girlfriends anyway. It doesn't make sense."
Sun staff writers Brenda Buote, Melody Holmes and Laura Sullivan contributed to this article.