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Local athletes get national praise

(ran NS, S editions of Tampa Bay and State)

Some are offered keys to the city, some get ticker-tape parades, some have a sandwich named in their honor.

Well, the area's most dominant female track stars, Sabrina Herring-Kelly and Char Foster, will have to settle for high school rallies and a special honor from the United States Track and Field association. At least for now.

Herring-Kelly and Foster were honored separately Friday at St. Petersburg and Clearwater Central Catholic high schools, respectively, as part of the USATF "Hometown Heroes" campaign aimed at recognizing the outstanding performances of American athletes in amateur national and international events this year.

The USATF also will stage "Hometown Heroes" presentations for sprinter Milt Campbell and shot-putter Adam Nelson, both of Atlanta, and for sprinter Tony Wheeler of Hampton, Va. within the coming weeks.

"This was the perfect opportunity for the USATF to show appreciation to our champions for their outstanding efforts," said David Morton, coordinator of the campaign. "Florida has always been a hotbed for track and field and athletics on the whole.

"There is something really good in the high schools down here. There is an infra-structure that has been working well and we want the other kids to recognize it."

Herring-Kelly, 19, is the national and world junior 100-meter champion. She won the 1994 National Junior College Athletic Association indoor titles in the 55 meters, 200 meters and was a member of the 4x400 meter relay team.

Before graduating from St. Petersburg High School, Herring-Kelly won state titles in the 100 meters (1992 and 1993) and 200 meters (1993).

"I guess I can be considered a role model, someone younger kids can look up to," Herring-Kelly said. "But role models are people that have to do things right and that's hard.

"I think this hometown hero thing is good. It shows that people from anywhere can accomplish things as long as they set their mind to it. It tells people that they too can follow their dreams."

"Sabrina warmly welcomes the attention of being a hero," said Delores Hayes, a friend of the Kelly family for many years. Herring-Kelly, who was presented with the Hometown Hero plaque at a school ceremony Friday afternoon, stays with Hayes when she returns to St. Petersburg from San Jacinto Junior College in Texas.

"She's come a long way and had some hard times in her life and is a wonderful person who deserves it all," Hayes said.

Earlier in the day Foster, 14, and a phenom who holds the world youth record in the 400-meter sprint with a time of 53.83 seconds and set four USATF youth records at the Junior Olympic championships last year, was honored at a ceremony at her school. Coached by her father Art Foster, Char set a USATF national youth record in the 400-meter hurdles (57.98 seconds) at the Junior National Championships in Tallahassee earlier this year. Her time was the world's second-fastest in 1994.

"I really haven't thought of myself as a hero," Foster said. "I'm just a good athlete who has worked really hard.

"It's very hard to be Char Foster. You're known by a lot of people and they want you to be what they want you to be," she continued. "I guess I'm really happy to honored by the USATF, but I don't consider myself a celebrity."

But on Char Foster Day, so deemed by Clearwater Central Catholic principal Sister Mary Dion Horrigan, she was a celebrity. Foster was presented with an official city of Clearwater T-shirt by Clearwater Mayor Rita Garvey.

"We know she'll achieve a whole lot out there and I want her to wear a city of Clearwater T-shirt so they would all know where she's come from," Garvey said.

Foster's schoolmates, senior Colleen McBride and junior Kelly Nacol, said they shared in the pride of Foster's achievements.

"She deserves this for all the hard work she's done," Nacol said. "I think it's necessary to reward young people like her, it sends an important message to all young people."

"The message is that if you work hard, as Char did, you can do anything you set out to do," McBride said.