It was the summer of 2008 and Chelsie Stevens had a choice to make. An eighth grader at North Bethesda Middle School, Stevens had to decide where she would continue her education at the high school level.
There was Our Lady of Good Counsel in Olney, where her brother, Corey, was a student. Its new facilities and striking campus made a lasting impression on her, she recalled. But then there was Elizabeth Seton, an all-girls school in Bladensburg where she expected students to feel “more like sisters” to her, she said.
Both schools are strong academically, but Seton had one thing that Good Counsel didn’t: a dominant track program.
When Stevens opted to become a Roadrunner rather than a Falcon, Seton had already won two consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference track and field titles and new coach Omar Wilkins was building a dynasty.
On May 19 at Good Counsel the Roadrunners edged Bishop McNamara to capture their sixth consecutive WCAC title, something athletic director Candy Cage said has never been done before.
In a world without Seton, McNamara would have won its seventh title in a row this year. The Mustangs took their first WCAC crown in 2006, edging the Roadrunners by five points on the final event of the meet, but McNamara has been the runner-up to Seton every year since.
“They are a good team,” Stevens said of McNamara, “but I have faith in our program.”
Wilkins took over as coach for the Roadrunners at the end of the 2008 indoor season from Rob Watson.
The former coach had seen the end of Seton’s string of championships from 1998-2002, taking over in 2001 as a 25-year-old.
“After ’02 it was all about going into a rebuilding process,” Watson said. “I knew going into it I had to revamp [Seton]. I wanted it to be my image.”
Watson recruited Wilkins for two years before Wilkins finally joined the program as an assistant in 2007.
“I just came to help out because [Watson] said, ‘Look, I need some help. Can you help me?’” Wilkins said. “At first I thought it was just going to be something fun to do to work with student-athletes. But I saw that we could start building something great. We could be a nationally ranked program.”
After Watson stepped down in 2008 Wilkins went right to work, setting up a meeting with Cage to discuss what it would take to become the premier track and field program in the state.
“She was on board from day one,” Wilkins recalled.
Cage obliged the new coach’s request for updated equipment. Since the school’s founding in 1959, it had never owned a high jump mat. The hurdles “seemed like they had been around since 1908 or something,” Wilkins said with a laugh.
With help from the school’s boosters, Seton purchased a high jump mat and replaced the ancient hurdles. Parts of the track were resurfaced and the sprinters got new starting bocks. Most importantly, Wilkins said, the coaching staff ballooned from three to seven.
“It makes a huge difference,” said Wilkins of the expanded staff. “One person cannot do it all. When you have that many coaches working on the same page it makes a huge difference. You’re not trying to be pulled in eight different directions by seeing to different girls’ needs. Somebody is going to get left behind.”
Parents also began jumping on board. In Wilkins’ inaugural year as coach he held a parents meeting and what he heard both surprised and inspired him.
“[The parents] said, ‘We can do this. We can be a top program. We can put Seton on the map,’” Wilkins said. “By them supporting the program it became a lot easier. It became collective bargaining.”
The result: an undefeated reign in four years as coach, seven individual WCAC meet records since 2009, eight athletes committed to Division I colleges, and a future as bright as the students Seton produces.
“I always thought it was possible to win every year,” said Stevens, who has committed to run at the University of Missouri next year. “But as the years went on there was more and more pressure to win. Every year we pushed even more. He wanted everyone to try harder.”
Stevens is a three-time WCAC title holder in the 100 meters. Her time of 11.99 seconds at this year’s meet is the all-time meet record and is the second-fastest time in the state this season.
“She is leaving behind a legacy which other student-athletes left behind,” Wilkins said.
But there is always going to be one missing element, one nagging question mark on the Roadrunner resume that may never get answered: Is Seton the best girls track program in the state?
As a private school, Seton does not participate in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association State Championships, which were held two weekends ago at Morgan State University. Private schools are permitted to recruit their students, while public schools are not.
“The WCAC is a very strong conference,” Wilkins said. “I always said I’d love for the WCAC to participate in Maryland states to see where we stand. Is it Bowie? Is it Northwest, Wootton? We have bragging rights for the WCAC. Bowie has the bragging rights for the best in the state. But are they the best in the state?”
A public-private school meet has been attempted before, Wilkins said, but with proms and graduations it has fallen through each time. For now, Wilkins can only worry about what he can control: Seton’s ability to win more WCAC championships.
“My goal right now is to get to 10,” he said. “Ten straight would be a great record. I would like to do more, but were keeping it small for now.”