It figures: Harford goes into frenzy over skater

For the Olympian from Bel Air, Jeff Kappus shipped a good luck bag of carrots.

Kimmie Meissner, the Harford County figure skater, used to stop by Kappus' Subway shop in Churchville every afternoon and started adding carrots to her daily turkey sub about the time she landed her famous triple axel. Now she's in Turin, Italy, and today she will perform her short program.

"She told us, 'I think the carrots helped me,'" said Kappus, who included a bag in a package for the skater.

For Kappus and many others in Harford, the long wait is over. They are going about preparations to watch their 16-year-old neighbor take her shot on one of the biggest stages in sports.

Meissner will be skating shortly after 1 p.m. Bel Air time, and many of her fans in the county are hoping they won't know how she fared until they watch the delayed broadcast tonight.

"Everyone's calendar is marked," said Terence O. Hanley, mayor of Bel Air.

Meissner, who attends Fallston High School and practices for four hours a day in Delaware, seemed to be on everyone's mind.

The school board will meet tonight in a long-scheduled session to discuss a contentious redistricting plan, and County Executive David R. Craig will give his first State of the County address to the County Council. But the attention in Bel Air - and around the county - is on the skater in Turin.

Fran Geraghty, a family friend of the Meissners and a teacher at Forest Lakes Elementary, said she will have a few families over to her house tonight for a potluck dinner, an event kept purposely low-key so that they can concentrate on the skating.

She remembers Meissner cutting out pictures of Michelle Kwan for a report in elementary school.

"I get cold chills and tears in my eyes when I watch her go across that ice," Geraghty said. "Her dream, her desire, her talent have all meshed together. That's the blessing of it all."

Phil McCracken graduated from Fallston High, as did his sister and his brother Joel, who, with Phil, co-owns C.R. Wings in Bel Air.

So it made sense that the restaurant, wildly popular with county high school students, would host a viewing party.

The restaurant has five big-screen TVs - two plasma and three LCD flat-panels - plenty of viewing capacity to satiate the appetites of the expected crowd of teenage fans.

"I expect it to be very upbeat and jovial," Phil McCracken said. "The kids at Fallston High School are just so thrilled about her being over there. ... We are really just expecting a great evening for Kimmie."

McCracken said the restaurant will donate profits from today and Thursday, when Meissner will compete in a second phase of the event, to Fallston's PTSA, the Cougars booster club and to Meissner's family to help defray the cost of their trip to Turin.

At Buontempo Brothers, an Italian restaurant in Bel Air that Meissner frequents with her family, manager Dave Anderson said he expects customers to be intent on the three wall-mounted televisions.

"She's a customer of ours," Anderson said. "She's been coming in for years."

On Jan. 28, the restaurant held a fundraiser to help pay for the family's travel expenses. Meissner stopped by, once in the afternoon and later in the evening, to sign autographs and pose for pictures, Anderson said.

"She's a very nice kid," Anderson said. "She's worked hard. It's an honor for them to let us be a part of it."

Some of Meissner's more improbable fans are likely to be found crowded around a television at the Engine 29 firehouse in the Park Heights area of Baltimore, where Meissner's 27-year-old brother, Nate, is a paramedic and firefighter.

He left last week to join the family in Italy, but not before some of his colleagues found out about his famous sister on the news.

"We put one and one together," said Lt. Kyle Caldwell, who said Nate's co-workers gave him some good-natured ribbing.

"He plays hockey, so we were wondering if he had any influence on her skating abilities, or if she did on him," Caldwell said. "And we wanted to make sure it wasn't him going to the Olympics."

In Bel Air, school and county officials who have been gushing about Harford's famous athlete will be tending to business as usual because of previously scheduled meetings.

Months ago, county school officials scheduled the unveiling of new school boundaries for tonight. The parents most vocal about the proposal are largely from the area where Meissner lives, and their children would be redistricted from Fallston High to Bel Air High.

"That's what they make VCRs for," said Larry English, a PTA legislative representative for Fallston Middle School, who said the redistricting meeting is his first priority.

The same goes for the County Council, which is to hear Craig's address tonight. Craig, who was an assistant vice principal at Southampton Middle School when Meissner was a pupil there, knows that his department heads at least will listen - they are required to attend.

"Everybody's proud and hopeful, and we hope she does well," Craig said. "Maybe I can catch a rebroadcast."

English and Craig could log onto the Internet and track results before their meetings. Many others will be trying to avoid just that.

McCracken of C.R. Wings said he isn't worried that constant Internet coverage, from which fans can get results before the event is broadcast for American viewers, will spoil the fun.

"They might know it, and that's fine," he said. "There's still going to be a little mystery, because we won't be able to see how she did until they broadcast it."

McCracken said he is likely to check out the results because he will be anticipating the outcome with such fervor.

Hanley said he doesn't want to know the results ahead of time.

"Someone will probably spoil it for me," he said. "Maybe I can just lock myself inside"


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