Rookie track star keeps EMU In tune

Allen excels In first season

By Matthew Stoss, Daily News-Record

Michael Allen
Michael Allen

Samfee Doe still remembers the first time she saw Michael Allen. It was in late summer, around the first week of classes at Eastern Mennonite University. He was standing on the brick stairs outside the campus center and singing a John Legend song in his bass voice.

Doe, a sophomore on the women’s track team, was instantly smitten – and, on Monday, she recalled what she thought at that moment.

“That’s my husband,” she said, jokingly. “He can sing. That’s my husband.”

Allen, a freshman, continued to impress when track season started, and Doe – as well as the Old Dominion Athletic Conference – both were wooed by more than just his vocal chords.

At last weekend’s ODAC championships, Allen qualified for the NCAA Division III meet in the triple jump with a distance of 48 feet, 8.75 inches, defeating his season-long nemesis: Lynchburg’s Brandon Edwards, who beat Allen in the event during the indoor season. On Saturday, Allen beat Edwards, a senior, by 3.25 inches, while the rest of the competition was at least 4 feet behind.

Allen also won the long jump (23-10), finished fourth in the 100-meter dash (11.17 seconds) and placed fifth in the 200 (22.62) en route to being named the ODAC’s Rookie of the Year and Athlete of the Meet.

Not that is was a surprise. It wasn’t just Allen’s voice – the only male one in EMU’s choir – that dazzled Doe. It was his athleticism.

“He’s got muscles on his shins,” Doe said. “That’s not normal.”

It’s also to Allen’s advantage. The Louisa County High School graduate started track in a youth league when he was about 10 years old. It didn’t take long for him to notice he was jumping farther and running faster than the other kids. That convinced Allen, now 19, to stick with it.

Now, track – like singing – has become an obsession.

During outdoor track season, Allen had a class (choir) that conflicted with practice on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Instead of totally missing practice, Allen came late and spent 1? to 2 hours working out alone, often pushing through the final gasps of sunlight.

“I’ve got to get better,” Allen said. “No excuses – even if the sun is going down.”

Down like EMU records. Allen broke his own triple jump mark of 46-5.87 over the weekend.

“I can’t stand not being able to re-break a mark,” said Allen. “I want my marks to get further every meet. That’s why I come to practice late [in the day].”

And it’s not like there was a coach holding his hand, forcing him to work out. Interim coach Pete Nelson – who will be replaced by Matt Dougherty next season – said Allen did the extra work on his own volition, even though it isn’t compulsory that an athlete make up a practice missed for academic reasons.

“His kind of attitude in life – he’s always so positive, and it rubs off on people,” said Nelson, a former distance runner at EMU, where he graduated last spring. “It gets people excited for meets; it gets me excited for meets. … I feel like I’m buttering him up for the newspaper, but that’s really how I feel about him.”

Before college track, Allen applied that same drive to music. At age 14, he began to teach himself bass by ear. He said he picked it up one day, thumbed a few strings and it sounded good enough to keep going. He also taught himself to play the piano by ear – an extraordinarily difficult thing to do. Now, he is in the process of learning to read sheet music.

Allen – who plans to double major in interdisciplinary music and business in hopes of one day opening a music shop – said his next musical goal is learning to play chords on his four-string Rogue bass guitar (even though he fantasizes about owning an elegant $1,000-plus Tobias with a wood-grain finish) as opposed to just plucking notes. Really, he just wants to emulate his bass idol: Victor Wooten, a founding member of B?la Fleck and the Flecktones, known for his slapping style of play.

“Now, I learn something new every time I play,” Allen said.

But if Wooten’s slaps prove too elusive, at least Allen has his voice – and, of course, he can jump almost 50 feet.

“He’s not a human being,” Doe said, “he’s a beast.”