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Finding Her Stride : Track and Parents' Insistence on Independence Awaits Sprinter Edmonson at USC

May 15, 1997|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Since she began running at 7, Malika Edmonson has depended on her parents to help develop her track career. Now that she has achieved their goal of a college track scholarship--to USC--she's about to discover how to care for herself.

Malika's mother is Barbara Edmonson, the Trojan women's track coach and a former Olympian. Her father, Warren Edmonson, is her sprint coach at Playa del Rey St. Bernard High and a former NCAA champion sprinter from UCLA.

They agree that Malika, a double sprint winner at last year's state meet, needs to enjoy the college experience without their personal involvement and be less of a homebody.

The day classes begin at USC will be the last day Malika lives full time at her family's Inglewood home.

"Leave your house keys on the dinner table before you go," Warren has told his daughter, the words appearing a bit more harsh than the intent.

Malika's parents were sending a message that the 18-year-old is now an adult who needs to do things on her own. It's a subject they've discussed since she officially signed with USC in November.

"We told her when she leaves for college, we're going to pack her little things and help her move," Barbara said. "Her new home will be the dorms at USC and Heritage Hall."

Warren had hoped his eldest daughter would follow his path to UCLA, one of 10 other programs to recruit Malika.

"Barbara had the influence," he said. "How do you say 'Mom, I'm not going to USC' when she's the coach? . . . I'm happy for her. Getting our daughters into college has been our biggest goal."

Malika's track marks have ranked among the nation's best during her high school career, and her parents are proud of that success. But now they're ready to stop making allowances and doing her chores because she was too tired from practice or running in a meet.

"Malika can test you at times," said Warren, who often takes his daughter's turn washing the dishes.

Now the Edmonsons are passing the towel.

"This is a wake-up call," Barbara said. "You're going to college. I won't be there to be your mother.

"I won't be there to wash the clothes, make dinner and tell you to do your homework. It's time to take care of your business."

Many athletes can turn to their college coaches to act as a surrogate parent, seeking advice and guidance. At USC, Malika can expect no special treatment from her coach/mother.

Barbara, Trojan coach since 1992, laughs at the thought that her daughter may try to take advantage of her.

"It will be war!" Barbara joked. "I'm the coach and I don't play favorites. I believe in work. I don't plan to be anyone's baby-sitter."

Malika says she doesn't believe she will really have to leave her key.

"I'm not leaving. I'm going up the street," she said.

But she did ask her parents what was going to happen with her room.

"We're going to turn it into a trophy and game room," her father said.

Seeing the house decorated with trophies and plaques were what sparked Malika's interest in track when she was growing up.

Barbara Ferrell-Edmonson was a silver medalist in the 100 meters at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games and a gold-medal winner on the U.S. 400-meter relay team.

Warren Edmonson was the 1972 NCAA 100-meter champion. He also ran a leg on a Bruin foursome that won the 1971 NCAA title in the mile relay.

"We had the track background and the natural genes to produce a runner," Warren said. "But she had to show the interest. We weren't going to force her into anything she didn't want to do."

Malika began running in elementary school meets without her parents' coaching. By 10, she showed promise, and her father offered to help.

"Our feeling was that some day she would want to go to college and we won't be able to afford it," Warren said. "My track career helped me travel around the world for free eight or nine times and it paid for my education.

"If it wasn't for athletics, I couldn't have gone to UCLA."

Warren, an officer with the Los Angeles Police Dept., works the night shift so he can train his daughter during the day. It's a nice arrangement, but he believes his time away from the force may have cost him promotion opportunities.

"I often think I could be a sergeant now," Warren said. "But that would have taken too much time away from my daughter."

Warren, who also coaches his other daughter, Miya, a talented freshman at St. Bernard, said: "My social life is dead. I'm with my children all the time." Malika says she appreciates her father's sacrifices.

"He works at night, sleeps and goes to the track," Malika said. "We really don't have a social life. Track is our life."

Said Barbara: "When you stop and think about it, what else are we going to do? We're not 22 and going on a date. A date now is not the same."

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