Whether he's wearing his school colors, or his country's, Dannie Wea welcomes what it means to serve.
His immediate plans are to lead the Hutch-Tech outdoor track and field team to an eighth consecutive Scalp & Blade title. This fall he'll begin earning a college degree at Niagara University and then join the Marines with hopes of becoming an officer.
Joining The Few and The Proud became a calling after participating in his school's ROTC program. His track coach for the last three years, Dave Sardo, has no doubt Wea is officer material.
"This kid gets it. Being a part of ROTC, understanding that he's a part of something that's bigger than himself," he said. "He's a 35-year-old in an 18-year-old body. His background is pretty humble. It doesn't matter. No excuses are necessary because none will be accepted. That's kind of how he lives. It's a treat to watch, it's a privilege to watch."
Wea was born in Liberia. He came to the U.S. when he was 4 or 5 years old. One of his earliest memories is getting off the plane wearing shorts and a T-shirt in the middle of December. He asked his mom, "what's the white stuff?" His plans to become an officer and a gentleman would be a way to give back to his country.
Wea said he gets his drive from his mother, who is single with four children. He has watched and learned from her struggles and triumphs. He said she has always found a way to provide for her family.
The no-quit attitude he learned from his mom helps him on the track and in the classroom. Unhappy with being a fill-in on the track team as a sophomore, Wea committed himself to training and won the All-High title last year in the 400 meters. But he doesn't just run for Tech or for himself.
"I run because there are people in this world who don't have the ability, or have the chance, or can't even get out of bed in the morning. I run for them," he said. "Someone has to step up and say, 'I'm going to do something for somebody more than myself.' When I'm running I put those people in my mind and everything I do on the track is for them."
It's unlikely Wea will compete in track on the college level, so he's going to make the most of this season at Tech.
Instead of the 400 he's going to fill his team's more pressing need and run the 100 and 200. He's a part of an all-senior 4x100 relay, along with Richard Cardoza, Verdall Cole, and a newcomer to track, Dezmond McClinton. Cole finished third at Sectionals last year in the hurdles.
"I'm very driven. I put goals in front of myself and set them and running is one of the main things I love," said Wea. "When you work really hard for something, you know how great it feels. If I lose, I know I've given my best. But if I lose, and I haven't tried, it hurts even more."
Olmsted's numbers are up. Way up. Last year it had only one boy on the team, this year it has 12. Girls team members number in the 20s. Eighth-grader Brittany Higgs has a bright future, having already finished as All-High runner-up in the 400 last year. Other top performers are junior Tauri Howard (200), Mariatu Baker (100, 200) and freshman Diamond Davis (100-400 and TJ).
Senior Carman Riggs of daVinci already owns the school record in the triple jump and does the pentathlon and hurdles. Senior Jabril Mohammed broke two school records last week in the 800 and 1,600, both meets were held in the rain. Chanel Prince is a contender for the league title in the 110 hurdles and will score well in the long and triple jumps.
It isn't unusual for Seamus Degan of City Honors to start his day at the track at 6:45 a.m. for a workout. Miles Pendergrass-Drummond (100, 400) is another athlete who isn't afraid to work hard. Jack Licata has dropped his times dramatically in the 400 and 800.
A lot is expected from Centaurs seniors Peter Pilarz and Jake Lebsak on and off the track. Besides their training, they also work with the younger athletes and show them the City Honors way.
The City Honors girls feature multi-sport athlete Fiona Henning, who shows her speed in the sprints and leads off the 4x100. Tyler Carpenter does the sprints, hurdles and jumps.
Charles Cardwell and Dimitrius Glass of McKinley are two of the league's top sprinters and also helped the Macks' 4x100 relay to a fourth-place finish at last year's sectionals.
Sierra Seymour of South Park is ranked in the top 10 in the long jump at 15-6.
Monique McBride of Hutch-Tech is among the favorites to take the league title in the triple jump. The Engineers are looking for a combination from among Jenna Rossi, Dakota Gallivan, Miljana Petrovic, Sylver Cooley and Keyana Simmons that can threaten the 1984 City record of 10:31.1 in the 4x800.