Sophomore track star Kendall Baisden is so popular at
Detroit Country Day (Beverly Hills, Mich.)
that some students have written a song about her entitled "Blazin' Baisden."
She lives up to her reputation every day that she toes the starting line.
As a mere freshman, she took the nation by storm with best clockings of 11.55 seconds in the 100-meter dash, 23.43 in the 200 and 52.59 in the 400. Her 400 effort was second in the nation, won the USATF National Junior crown and qualified her for the World Junior Championship in Canada — but she was too young.
"It was a little disappointing," she said. "But I was happy that I got the experience and realized that I could compete at that level."
Baisden actually started out as a tennis prodigy, taking up the sport at the tender age of 5. Ironically, though, tennis led to her budding track career and this year she has dropped tennis at Country Day.
She was attending a Michigan State University tennis camp at age 9. They were doing suicide drills and relay races when one of the coaches noticed her quickness and challenged her to a race.
"He went to my mom, said I was very quick on my feet and should look to track," Baisden recalled. "I took it rather seriously, but my mother didn't want to hear it."
Despite her misgivings, Tina Baisden allowed her daughter to start track the following school year. As a fourth-grader, Kendall ran against seventh and eighth graders in CYO events and won more than her share of events, even setting records.
"That whole experience was mind-blowing for me," she said. "I didn't know I had another talent (besides tennis)."
Through her early teens, Baisden set national age-group records numerous times. As a 14-year-old, she posted a sensational 53.05 clocking in the 400 (another national age-group record) during the AAU Junior Olympics in Des Moines, Iowa.
She began running the 400 as a sixth grader and it has become her signature race. Prior to that time, she had been doing shorter sprints and the 400 looked to her like a marathon.
"I thought that was too much of a distance race," she admitted. "I could never try sprinting a whole lap. I was really scared."
However, the first time she tried the 400, she came from behind to win and even had some gas left in her tank. It became her favorite event when she won the AAU Junior Olympics in a record 57.68 at Knoxville, Tenn., the summer before she started seventh grade.
In 2009 Baisden began working with her current club team, the Motor City Track Club.
Coach Robert Lynch calls her "a special athlete. Her circulatory system has to be very good. The thing that surprises me so much is that she was playing tennis and track at the same time and still performing at the level she was performing at. Not playing tennis should make her a lot better. We expect her to be close to 51 (seconds) this year."
Assistant coach Brandon Jiles told MaxPreps, "We have kept her healthy and made sure she enjoys the sport. We've always presented her with challenges. She's the fiercest competitor we've seen in 20 years.
"As she's gotten older, she's become a better leader because she's more vocal. She retains information very well and has got a lot of gifts. Every time there's a big meet, she finds a way to do something special. All the kids love her, almost like a celebrity. When she runs, everybody stops and watches."
Baisden entered Country Day as a freshman and immediately blew coach Dave Wilson away in her very first varsity meet by surpassing school records in the 100 and 200 – standards that had been established by some extraordinary sprinters in the 1980s.
"She just wiped those all away," Wilson said. "It was amazing. Her reputation was one thing, but I had never seen her run in person. It was a sight to behold. To see her eat up the stagger was pretty awesome."
Though his young phenom didn't run the 400 in that first meet, Wilson says, "She loves the 400 and excels in it. She is a terrific short sprinter, but being very tall and with long legs makes her a formidable 400 runner."
Not knowing what to expect, Baisden conceded, "I was surprised. I wasn't really running for records, but that just motivated me all the more."
Still, that first year was a tough one, because she was in two sports at the same time and taking a heavy load of strong academic courses where she carries a 3.5 GPA. Baisden explained, "Looking back, it was pretty challenging. I had many sleepless nights. Homework was tough. I didn't mind, because I was doing something worthwhile."
Before the tennis/track season started, Baisden and her doubles partner, Devin Nagle, agreed that if there was a conflict during the state tournament, they would have to default so she could concentrate on track. Naturally, the conflict materialized. The problem was greatly compounded by bad weather and the death of Baisden's grandfather.
Because of the weather delay and her grandfather's funeral, Baisden was not able to run in the 200 finals. She did, however, win the 100 (12.12) and 400 (meet-record 54.91). The team finished second. Had his star won the 200, coach Wilson projected a 12-point swing which would have enabled the Yellowjackets to tie for the Division 2 team championship.
And, of course, the doubles team finished second in tennis without having a shot at the title.
"I was disheartened, because I had to force her (Nagle) to settle for second place," Baisden said.
There is no conflict with tennis this year, however, because she is doing track only along with a heavy academic course load.
"If I did take on tennis, I'd be up all hours of the night," she pointed out.
Baisden also is filling what extra time she has with several important other activities. She is a member of the prestigious Honor Council, which deals with academic integrity; Positive Coaching Alliance, which meets every year at Stanford University; and Jack & Jill of America, for African American children and their mothers to learn about their heritage and how they can contribute to their communities. She edits the latter organization's newsletter and does the layout.
Both of her parents are doctors, but she is interested in becoming an architect.
Though the sprints appear to be her ticket to future greatness, the hurdles seemed like another good possibility because she is a lanky 5-foot-10. She quashed that thought right away when she confessed, "I am terrified of the hurdles. I have a fear of going over a hurdle and not being able to come up after I went down."
Wilson recalled a fun game involving obstacles that he had his girls playing one day this spring. But it was off limits to Kendall and a few other elite team members.
"I don't want anyone like Kendall to get hurt," was his obvious explanation. "She asked why.
"Where are the 2016 Olympics," I asked her. "She said, ‘Rio de Janeiro.' I said, ‘That's why.'
Baisden, who idolizes Allyson Felix, definitely hopes for college, Olympic and professional running to be a big part of her future.
The confident sophomore said, "I definitely want to be able to run in the Olympics more than once. I don't think I'll be too young (for 2012). It all comes down to the times. One day I want to say that I broke the 400 record for the United States and the world."