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H.S. Confidential: Speed Academy Takes Off

By Keith Mills

Inside the cavernous gymnasium at Mount St. Joseph's High School (MSJ) the temperature pushed 100 degrees as a group of eager and dedicated teenage boys and girls pushed their bodies to new levels.

"Proper technique is the key," Mike St. Martin said to a gathering of 30 13- and 14-year-old Baltimore-area athletes looking for an edge. "When you run, you need to lift your legs high, straighten your back, bring your arms in, and explode."

St. Martin is set to begin his 10th year as the head soccer coach at MSJ. In a conference including dominate programs like Calvert Hall, Archbishop Curley, Loyola and McDonogh, St. Martin has MSJ on an impressive five-year run that saw the Gaels win the MIAA "A" Conference championship in 2001 and tie for it last year.

"I think the program has finally gotten to the point where we can just reload and not rebuild," St. Martin said. "A lot of the kids coming in this year are strong. Our J.V. team lost only one game last year and won the championships. And we had a very good junior class who will be seniors this year."

St. Martin went to Calvert Hall, where he was an All-Metro soccer player for legendary coach Bill Karpovich and an outstanding baseball player for coach Snooky Binder.

As a kid, he made the 45-minute drive every day to Calvert Hall from Linthicum, where he cut his teeth in the Linthicum-Ferndale baseball and soccer programs and watched his dad, Art, coach the girls basketball team at nearby Brooklyn Park High School.

After playing baseball at Frostburg State University, Mike St. Martin came home and landed a teaching and coaching job at MSJ. His high school pedigree, west side roots, and coaching heritage made him a natural choice.

St. Martin soon tapped into the gold mine of talent in the Columbia, western Baltimore County and Anne Arundel County areas and established a program that has earned national notoriety. Last year the Gaels finished 19-4-4, tied Loyola for the "A" conference championship, and ended the year ranked 28th in the country according to the National Coaches Soccer Association. The NSCA named St. Martin the 2005 state's Parochial School Coach of the Year.

***

On this steamy summer night at MSJ, St. Martin wasn't coaching soccer at all. In fact, there wasn't a soccer ball, lacrosse ball, baseball, or basketball anywhere around as he spoke to the young athletes sitting on the gym floor. On this night the subject was speed -- how to get faster and how to get quicker.

The Achieve Speed Academy is a weeklong camp for boys and girls designed to increase speed, improve running technique, improve conditioning, and prepare the kids for the high school season ahead. It is the latest strength and conditioning craze among high school kids. The MSJ camp featured two sessions for middle school and high school boys and girls. Both sold out quickly, with long waiting lists to get in.

"I've been doing this a lot with the team I coach here at St. Joe," St. Martin said. "I really feel it's helped our kids get quicker."

St. Martin said his goal is to teach the kids different exercises they can do at home and proper running technique.

"We videotape them, then break down the tape and show it to them so they can see where they need to improve and make themselves as fast as they can possibly be," he said.

"We've had some pretty good success."

***

Jenny Steadman is one of those stories. St. Martin worked with Steadman, a lacrosse player, prior to her junior year at Century High School in Carroll County. She scored 87 goals this season, nine goals in one game in May, and led the Knights to a perfect 19-0 season and a state championship.

Kathleen Maleski of South Carroll High School lowered her time as a swimmer by a whopping six seconds after a week at the Speed Academy camp. "I didn't know this worked for swimming," St. Martin said. "I guess it does."

Most of the young athletes at last week's camp play soccer, baseball, football, basketball, or lacrosse and are either entering eighth or ninth grade.

Jonathon Harris, 14, of Pikesville, the son of Nina Harris and Walbrook boys basketball coach Kelvin Bridgers, will be a freshman at MSJ and hopes to play football and basketball. He's a member of the Baltimore Select U-14 AAU basketball team and was the quarterback of Pikesville's Pop Warner U-13 football team.

"He absolutely loves this," said Nina Harris, Jonathon's mom, as she sat on the bleachers watching her son go through an assortment of running and quickness drills. "After the first night he said, 'Mom, I could stay here all night.'"

Each session is 90 minutes long, enough time to get the heart pumping, the sweat flowing, and the Gatorade pouring.

"Speed training is geared to the athlete who really wants to take their game to the next level, and that's what we're trying to do here," St. Martin said. "Trying to teach the kid who really wants to perform at that high level."

Justin Hook, a sophomore at Francis Scott Key High School in Union Bridge, is another of those young athletes looking to find that next level -- and he is doing so with the help of St. Martin. For the last two years Hook and his parents, Jeff and Sue, have made the 55-minute drive down from northern Carroll County to the Irvington section of West Baltimore to take part in the camp.

"It's been tremendous," Jeff Hook said. "The improvement we saw in Justin in just one week was incredible." Last year Justin Hook ran the 40-yard dash in 5.1 seconds going into St. Martin's camp. Five days later, he had lowered his time to 4.8 seconds.

"We liked what we saw in the program," Jeff Hook said. "In just one week you really see the transformation. For us, it's a small investment for what Justin gets out of it. The benefits are great."

Jeff and Kathy Brooks brought their son to camp from Columbia, where 14-year-old Jarrett Brooks was the quarterback of the Howard County Terps' youth football team and a member of the Bethel Christian basketball team. He will be a freshman this fall at MSJ.

"This type of camp is all new to me," Jeff Brooks said. "I've never seen it before but I'm very impressed and Jarrett loves it."

"I need to work on my upper body, keep it straight," 14-year-old Jake Thiess said after the video session with St. Martin. Thiess played for the Linthicum Ferndale soccer program and also plays for the Maryland Eagles U-14 baseball team. He will be a freshman this fall at North County High School in Ferndale.

While St. Martin runs the video session, MSJ assistant coaches Sean Gibbons, Phil Campbell, and Jeremy Utera put the players through an assortment of sprinting and agility drills indoors before moving the session outside to the football field. There are constant water and stretching breaks while harness belts are used outside so the athletes can work on their technique with a little resistance.

"There has been a lot of interest among other coaches in this type of thing," St. Martin said. "A lot of them ask me to come out and talk to their teams about it. Plus, it's a good chance for me to get away from just coaching and teaching soccer and it gives me a chance to work with other athletes."

Athletes like Steadman, Maleski, Harris, Brooks, and Thiess, who sacrificed a night at the pool or the movies to run and sweat and push themselves on a hot, steamy night.

"It says a lot about the kids who come out here when it's 95 degrees and work out for an hour-and-a-half," St. Martin said. "It says a lot about how really dedicated they are. As a coach, it's fun to work with that kind of athlete."

Issue 1.15: August 3, 2006