Jordyn Morris makes qualifying to compete at a national level athletic event sound easy.
“I have a rhythm,” she said. “In between hurdles, I count — one, two, three — then I step over the hurdle.”
The 12-year-old Hagerstown athlete has competed nationally twice in previous years at Amateur Athletic Union Junior Olympic Games near Virginia Beach and in New Orleans.
On Saturday, Jordyn faced competitors in the Mountain Express Appalachian Games, an AAU Junior Olympic Games national qualifier at South Hagerstown High School.
A first place in the 80-meter hurdles and a third place in the 100-meter dash earned her a spot yet again at the national event in Houston in July. Jordyn said participating with athletes from across the country makes her feel “competitive.”
“It makes me like a challenge, because sometimes I’m going against people older than me and I have to push myself,” she said. “And sometimes, I’m not always going to be first, so I push even harder.”
A seventh-grader at E. Russell Hicks Middle School and a member of Mountain Express Track Club, Jordyn said track and field is a love and a hobby. But it’s also something more.
“I’m trying to get a scholarship. My grades are really good. Hopefully, if I get a scholarship, I can get into a good college,” she said.
Jan Price of Smithsburg-based Mountain Express Track Club initiated the national qualifier at South High four years ago and continues to oversee it. This year, organizers combined track and field events with an AAU basketball tournament at Hagerstown Community College and named the scope of events the Mountain Express Appalachian Games.
The three-day qualifier, which ends Sunday, hosts about 620 athletes ages 5 to 18 from across Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Washington, D.C., Price said. Some are members of running clubs, while others register as individuals or “unattached.” Organizers expected crowds of roughly 1,200 people.
Brightly-colored tarps surrounded the track and large umbrellas dotted the bleachers, keeping athletes and spectators shaded from the sun.
Price’s daughter and event volunteer Trinette Newman, 29, of Frederick, Md., said track and field is more accessible than some sports.
“There is something everyone can get involved in, no matter what your skill level or experience,” she said.
Hayley Freeman, 17, of Hagerstown, seems to be the gifted sort who can hold her own in various skill areas. The South High senior, who said she has placed in several events at Maryland state championships, competed in the heptathlon, an event that combines seven track and field events including hurdles, shot put, long jump, high jump and javelin.
“I’m not spectacular at any one event. I’m decent in a few different ones,” Freeman said.
Though Freeman had not yet received all her scores, she was confident she would earn a spot at nationals. Freeman said participating in Junior Olympics keeps her prepared for the school season and offers visibility to college scouts.
“(AAU Junior Olympic Games) gets colleges looking at you. They are looking for good multi-event people,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity.”
Northern Middle School student James Searcy, 11, said he took first place in the high jump at the national events in New Orleans and near Virginia Beach. He is hoping to take a step toward carrying on that tradition in Houston when he competes today. He earned a spot in the national competition by placing first in the 80-meter hurdles Saturday.
Kathy Strassberger’s son, Nathan, 12, of Hagerstown, qualified for nationals by earning fifth place in the long jump.
“This is a great opportunity for the kids,” Strassberger said. “While other kids are playing outside, playing video games and goofing off, these kids are qualifying for the Junior Olympics.”
Organizers said they were pleased with the solid number of local athletes who qualified for the national event. Some qualifiers said they were unsure whether they would participate, given considerable travel expenses to Texas. They are considering fundraising opportunities, they said.