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Severn Highsteppers sending large contingent of athletes to Junior Olympics

Years ago, when Breeland Brown and his wife Latria wanted to get some exercise, they would make their way to the track and bring their daughter Brilee with them.

After a while, they both realized their daughter might be a naturally gifted track athlete.

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“We usually go out and run like 15 100-meter sprints or six 200 meters and she would always be right there with us,” Breeland Brown said. “I told my wife, right before the pandemic in 2020, that she looks really talented. So, I wanted to put her in track but the coronavirus threw things off. I thought she was super talented and she never got tired and she was beating my wife at [the age of] 8, so I needed to sign her up.”

Through the power of google search, Breeland found the relatively newly formed Severn Highsteppers — a track club that became part of the Severn Athletic Club in 2016. With proper coaching and training, Brilee excelled in her first season of track and leads a contingent of 24 athletes the Highsteppers will be sending to the Junior Olympics in Humboldt, Texas, starting Monday.

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Severn Highsteppers track and field standout Brilee Brown
Severn Highsteppers track and field standout Brilee Brown (Courtesy Brown family)

Brilee is the only Highstepper that will be competing in three different events as she qualified for the 100-, 200- and 400-meter dashes.

Qualifying is a two-part process, starting with approximately 60-70,000 athletes around the country competing in district competitions. The top 16 athletes in each event advance to one of 25 regional qualifiers around the nation.

The top six athletes in each event at the regional meet qualify for the Junior Olympics, as Brilee and her teammates did when they competed at the regional meet in Landover, Maryland on June 24-25.

In addition to competing, Brilee has grown to love track for the relationships it has helped her build.

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“My favorite part about track is building relationships with my teammates and people I am racing against,” Brilee said. “You are racing against people and just trying to aim for medals.”

Though she competes in three sprint events, Brilee says her favorite is the 200 as she heads into her first national competition.

“[The 200 is] not too long and it’s not too short,” Brilee said. " I’m a little excited and nervous at the same time. My goals are to set [personal records] and win medals and have a really good time.”

While Brilee is one of several athletes from the Highsteppers that will be headed to the Junior Olympics for the first time, the program is accustomed to sending a contingent to the national competition on a yearly basis.

Head coach Bruce Hunter said the Highsteppers normally send anywhere from 24-30 athletes to the Junior Olympics. That was the case two years ago, when the regular Junior Olympics was held at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro.

Originally, the Highsteppers program was started on base at Fort Meade by former Olympic sprinter Charlie Green, who ran the opening leg of the gold medal winning 400-meter relay team at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. The program was only open to military or Department of Defense employees.

Coach Bruce Hunter smiles as he watches young athletes with the Severn Highsteppers warm-up at the start of a training session at Meade High School on Monday, July 26.
Coach Bruce Hunter smiles as he watches young athletes with the Severn Highsteppers warm-up at the start of a training session at Meade High School on Monday, July 26. (Brian Krista/Capital Gazette)

In 1993, Hunter and his wife Olivia joined the program and coached there until 2015 when the Fort Meade Youth Services program on base decided to change the parameters of the program.

“Youth services decided to change their focus to non-competitive track and field, so my wife and I decided to go over to the Severn Athletic Club and see if they wanted to start up a track program and they did,” said Bruce Hunter, who credited the assistance of SAC track and field commissioner Stephen Lloyd.

“Since then, we have been able to draw on a larger segment of the community than we were allowed to do with the Fort Meade track club. Now we serve the larger community of Western Anne Arundel County. Meade, Arundel, Old Mill, that’s where most of the kids come from.”

Practicing at Meade High, the program started this season with roughly 75 athletes and is now down to their Junior Olympic qualifiers that represent a range of events and ages.

There is 11-year-old Taylor Gross, who is the defending national champion in the 1,500-meter race walk.

“She’s quite the little distance competitor because she also runs the 1,500 run, as well as the race walk,” Bruce Hunter said. “She’s something of an iron woman.”

Gross is one of 24 race walkers the program has sent to the Junior Olympics under the direction of Oliva Hunter, the associate head coach for the past 23 years.

Emory Dickens, 8, has been hanging around the track since she was four years old. This year, her first competing, Emily advanced in the 200 and 400 meters.

Sean Haden, 15, normally plays team sports but this year decided to give track a shot and qualified for the 2,000-meter steeplechase event as well as the triple jump.

“It’s his first year in track and field and normally he plays basketball or soccer and he just did this on a lark to see what it was like and so far he is liking it,” Bruce Hunter said. “I don’t think he knew what type of athlete he was.”

A source of pride for the Highstepper coaching staff over the years is the success of its javelin throwers on the national level.

“We have done pretty well in javelin despite the fact that they can’t do it year-round as it’s not offered at the high school level as it is in Ohio or Pennsylvania or Texas,” Bruce Hunter said. “When our kids go up against those types of kids at competition, it says quite a few positive things about their athletic ability and the ability to master a skill that they haven’t been exposed to.”

Brandon Kiefer, a Severna Park High senior, works on his javelin throw technique with the Severn Highsteppers during a training session at Meade High School on Monday, July 26.
Brandon Kiefer, a Severna Park High senior, works on his javelin throw technique with the Severn Highsteppers during a training session at Meade High School on Monday, July 26. (Brian Krista/Capital Gazette)

The Junior Olympics also has several multi-event competitions and Severn will be represented in those as well with 9-year-old Corey Blunt competing in the triathlon, which includes the high jump, shot put and 400-meter dash.

On the girls’ side, 13-year-old Taylor Seymoure qualified in the pentathlon in her first year competing. The pentathlon includes the high jump, long jump, shot put, 800-meter run and 100-meter hurdles.

As the Severn program continues to grow and flourish, Hunter believes any kid who is thinking about possibly trying track and field can benefit from the sport, even if they don’t qualify for the Junior Olympics in their first year as some of his athletes have.

“Track and field is probably the best sport that any kid can participate in. I say this with tongue-in-cheek, but track and field is the only true sport — everything else is just a game,” Bruce Hunter said.

“Track and field is probably the only sport that requires you to address every aspect of athleticism — speed, endurance, power and strength. It addresses all of them whereas some sports emphasize only certain aspects of athleticism,” he added. “Also it allows kids, actually forces kids, to develop a good work ethic if they haven’t already developed it.”

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