Family owes history to track ‘meet’Published 5:24pm Saturday, January 25, 2014
A track meet holds a world of possibility for athletes and coaches the world over.
Personal records, conference titles, All-American honors, national championships, college scholarships and learning and teaching opportunities can all be earned.
For Lakeland High School track and field coaches Gregory and Melleasenah Rountree, the list also includes love.
In 1987, both of them were attending Hampton University on full scholarships earned in track and field. He was a standout in the 400-meter dash, and she was an excellent hurdler.
They first met on the track during practice near the beginning of the school year.
“We were strictly friends at first,” Melleasenah Rountree said.
The attraction was already there for her future husband, however.
“For me, I think it was instant,” he said.
“We became really good friends,” she said, and they also had friends in common.
During their time at Hampton, the Rountrees’ love for track and their competitiveness in it helped generate an impressive accumulation of accolades.
Melleasenah Williams, as she was known then, claimed the 1990 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II indoor national championship in the 55-meter hurdles with a time of 8.15 seconds. During her four-year collegiate career as a hurdler, she was a four-time Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association champion and six time All-American.
During his four years in college, Gregory Rountree was also a six-time All-American for having placed in the top six of the 400-meter dash at nationals, three times indoors and three times outdoors. He also garnered a CIAA championship.
Rountree was three years ahead of Williams in school, and when he graduated in 1988, they lost touch for a few years, save for occasional phone calls.
His first job was an in-school suspension teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, where he also served as an assistant to his high school track coach.
The school’s closure the following year forced a change.
“I became a math teacher here at Lakeland High School,” he said. “I was assistant track coach the year I came here,” in 1990.
Melleasenah Williams graduated from Hampton in 1991 and then attended Norfolk State University for her teacher certification. From 1991 to 1995, she was a teacher’s assistant at Virginia Beach’s Salem High School, where she also served as an assistant to her high school track coach.
In 1993, Lakeland and Salem were two of the schools competing at the Conn-Madden Relays.
“I was walking down with two of my athletes and happened to see her,” Rountree said. “It was a surprise.”
He had no idea she was coaching at Salem, and she was surprised to see him, too, after so many years.
He said the reunion was pleasant. She said, “At first, I was a little nervous.”
Soon, though, he had asked her to a dance, and it wasn’t long before they were dating regularly.
His proposal came about six months later, and the two were wed on June 25, 1994.
She taught in Virginia Beach until 2002, when she moved to Mack Benn Jr. Elementary School. Though she has only officially been a Lakeland track coach since 2011, she has, for many years, guided the hurdlers, helping her husband, who is now activities director and head track coach.
Under their guidance, Suffolk track stars have received impressive accolades, including 17 All-Americans and 23 state champions at Lakeland.
The Rountrees have three children. Gregory Rountree Jr. is a senior and Kiera is a sophomore, and both compete on Lakeland’s track team. They join the youngest, Alexis, a fifth-grader, on the Rountrees’ Amateur Athletic Union team, the Suffolk Stars Track Club.
“It’s very special, because they love the sport of track and field, and also they know that could be a way for them to attend college free of charge,” Melleasenah Rountree said.
And it was all made possible by a momentous track “meet” in 1987.