Originally created 04/02/02

Johnson looking for first title



Cross Creek senior runner Tanita Johnson has this economics thing figured out.

She reasons if she can sell candy - including Snickers, M&Ms, Twix, Reese's and Skittles - at school for 50 cents, she'll make a tidy little profit.

That's because a teacher at Cross Creek retails her candy for $1, and the more students Johnson can steal away from her competitor, the more likely she'll get to travel to Australia.

Johnson isn't going across the ocean for a vacation. She's looking to get some work accomplished - representing the U.S. in July's Down Under Games.

Her candy money, and running ability - which will be on display today and Wednesday in the Richmond County Track and Field Championships at Cross Creek - just might get her there.

"I don't know who nominated me, but I was sent an invitation to run for the U.S. in the Down Under Games," Johnson said. "I was thinking it was a joke, like when people send you a credit card. My mom and me looked it up on the Internet. It was legit."

But she couldn't go for free. More than $3,000 - $3,200 to be exact - must be raised. By selling candy, her parents soliciting at local businesses, and with the help of patrons at Johnson's church, she's $800 of the way to completing her payment.

The only original member of the 3-year-old Razorback team, however, will have other thoughts on her mind today, when she'll try to lead Cross Creek's girls team to their first county championship.

"The biggest thing she brings to the team is her experience and leadership," girls coach Tracey Gamble said. "She provides guidance and leadership for the younger girls. She knows how we want things done."

Johnson, who finished second in the 200-meter and 400-meter runs in last year's county meet, also knows what she wants - to beat perennial county power Butler.

"I want them real bad," Johnson said. "We don't care about any other school in the county. That's the one thing we want. I believe this year we'll tear them to pieces."

Her desire is understandable.

Although she helped Cross Creek's 4-by-100 and 4-by-400 relay teams win county titles last year, the Lady Razorbacks fell four points short of Butler's team championships.

Similarly, Cross Creek's boys, led by senior hurdler Aaron Whitely, lost by eight points.

Preliminary running events begin at 3:30 p.m. today, with the finals scheduled Wednesday.

"I'm very excited," said Whitely, who also was invited to the Down Under Games. "We have a chance to defeat Butler, and we want to take that crown away from them.

Both Cross Creek teams are 9-0 this season and have their best shots ever at getting by the Bulldogs. Whitely, the defending Region 3-AAA champion in the 110 and 300 hurdles, will lead the boys team into action. Johnson will take a short break from selling candy to try to cash in on a county title.

"It would be a good mark for our program (to beat Butler)," Gamble said. "Our girls have beaten them in a regular meet, but never in a county meet. It would do a lot for the confidence of the kids."

Reach Josh Katzowitz at (706) 823-3216 or josh.katzowitz@augustachronicle.com