[Tomorrow, November 15th, 2014, the Mass. All-State Cross Country Meet takes place at Franklin Park in Boston. Hard to believe, but it was forty years ago that I finished 9th at that meet, far behind the 1-2 finish of Chicopee’s Dan Dillon and Wayland’s Alberto Salazar. This reminiscence was one of my very early blog posts, and was originally published November 15, 2005]
I grew up in Western Mass. and ran track and cross-country for Amherst H.S. in the mid-1970’s. For me and the other guys on my team, the most thrilling day of the year was the Mass. All-State Cross Country meet. The first year that I went was 1973 when I was a sophomore. We drove down with our coach the night before the meet and stayed in a motel in Quincy. I think it was the first time I had ever stayed in a hotel or motel in my life, and it was very exciting.
In those days — long before the Internet — nobody in Eastern Mass. knew much about the runners from Western Mass., and likewise, those of us in Western Mass. had only a vague idea of the good runners and teams from Eastern Mass. We felt the Boston papers pretty much ignored anything that happened west of Worcester and that motivated us to prove ourselves on a bigger stage.
The course we ran was at Franklin Park, but bore little resemblance to the course that’s used these days. The course we ran was almost entirely on the other side of the road, where the golfers are now (and were then). We used to start down by the ball field at one of the lowest parts of the Park. The first 400m was a gradual uphill that was a killer when you were trying to sprint off the line. After that first uphill, we continued clockwise along the perimeter of the golf course before circling back near the start, climbing some steep hills, crossing the road, and finishing in front of White Stadium. It was not a particularly good course for spectators, but it was fair and challenging for the runners. I never knew exactly how long it was, but I have heard people say that it was 2.85 miles. I can tell you, it felt a lot longer.
Another thing that was different then, was that All-States was a single race for all schools, regardless of size. If someone won the All-State meet, that was the end of the debate. The split into large-school and small-school divisions didn’t happen until around 1990.
In 1973, we were a pretty young team and we didn’t fare too well at All-States. Our top runner, a sophomore, was 26th or so. I was 86th. Still, it was a great experience, and staying the night in Quincy definitely broadened my view of the world. The next year, we were much better, and I think we finished 5th overall. The funny thing is, I don’t ever remember thinking we could win the All-State meet and we never worried about it. One reason was that we always lost the Western Mass. meet to Springfield Cathedral, which was a power in those days. Our top three runners were good, perhaps as good as anyone’s, but we never did have the depth of the bigger schools.
The 1974 Mass. State meet was historically significant because it pitted two future legends of the sport against each other. That year, Wayland junior Alberto Salazar ran an unbelievable time of 14:09 at the Catholic Memorial meet. In the state meet, he ran against Chicopee’s Dan Dillon. The two of them raced far ahead of the rest of the field, with Dillon winning a furious sprint at the finish, setting a new course record 14:02, to Salazar’s 14:04. Dillon would go on to make the USA’s World XC Championship team seven times in his career, while Salazar would set a U.S. best in the 10K and a world best in the marathon. As for me, I finished far back in ninth and never quite made it to the Olympics.
The 1975 state meet was my last with Amherst HS. The race was held on a very cold day (29F at the start) and my strongest memory from the morning is of shivering on the starting line in nothing but nylon shorts and singlet, my breath coming out in little white clouds. The race itself was an anti-climax. My season had been affected by an iron deficiency and various physical issues, and I finished only 25th. Once again, we finished in about 5th or 6th. We did beat Cathedral at the State Meet, though, so that was good.
Salazar won easily in 1975, and went on to have a stellar career at the University of Oregon. Dillon went on to run at Providence College. I attended Reed College, which didn’t have any varsity sports. It would be many years before I ran competitively again.