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Looking Back at the OHSAA's Cross Country Championships

Boys Feature Article

By Timothy L. Hudak 
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
As you drive by your local high school early in the fall, shortly after the beginning of the school year, you may often see a group of boys and/or girls running through the neighborhood in shorts and t-shirts or old sweatshirts. Contrary to popular belief, these are not escapees from a late afternoon gym class looking for a nearby ice cream shoppe. These are the members of the school’s cross country team out for their daily workout (and possibly that ice cream shoppe later). In today’s world of high tech training regimens and workouts in the weight room, getting into shape for cross country pretty much comes down to the basics – simply running long distances to build up one’s stamina and work on some speed.
Cross country running involves racing over a variable terrain such as hills or wooded areas. At the high school level, this quite often means running through a local golf course or similar open area. In Ohio, the official distance for cross country competition has ranged between two and three miles, but since 1982 the official distance, for both boys and girls, has been set at 5,000 meters, or approx. 3.1 miles.
Cross country is essentially a team sport. At a race, each team consists of six or seven runners, but only the scores of the first five finishers are used to determine the team’s overall score. Like golf, this is a sport in which the low score wins. Each runner is assigned a score based on how he finishes, i.e., first place gets one point, second place gets two points, etc. In the event of a tie, the score of the sixth place finisher for each team is used to determine the winner.
At the annual state meet, individual runners with qualifying times are allowed to compete, even though their team may not have qualified. From 1960 through 1984 these individual qualifiers ran in a separate race, but now everyone runs in the same race and separate awards are given to the team and individual winners. 
The boys cross country state tournament began in 1928, with all qualifying schools running in a single class. From 1966-1969 the schools were divided into two classes, A and AA, and then into three classes, A-AA-AAA, from 1969-1989, when the classes were renamed Division I-II-III. In the “one class” days of 1928-1965, the sport was dominated by the bigger schools from the northern part of the state. Lakewood started this “trend” by winning the first two meets in 1928 and 1929, and the championship tended to stay up north after that. Schools like Akron North (5 championships), West Tech (4) and John Adams (3) of Cleveland, Lakewood High School (4) and Toledo’s Scott High School (3) were all major factors in the cross country competition of the day. With the division of the schools into various classes in 1966, the championships have spread throughout the state, with no one area really dominating, although individual schools still manage to have their “day” as it were.
The most successful school in Ohio boys cross country is also one of the smallest, Caldwell High School of Caldwell, Ohio, located about 80 miles east of Columbus along I-77. A Division III school with a total enrollment that struggles to reach 300, Caldwell’s boys cross country team was the premier team in the state, at any level, from 1985 until 1992. 
The cross country program at Caldwell High School was started in 1971 by Rod O’Donnell. That year the team finished dead last in the state tournament, but under coach O’Donnell’s tutelage the boys came roaring back the next year to finish all the way up in second place, only eight points from a championship trophy. In 1973, in just their third season of interscholastic cross country, the Redskins won their first state championship trophy. Although it would be another dozen years before the Redskins claimed another team championship, they did enjoy some individual success during the intervening years. Brian Jonard had the single best time in the team competition in 1974, and he came back two years later, in 1976, to win the individual competition.
The Caldwell team began its unprecedented run of success under the watchful eye of coach Ron Martin, who guided the Redskins from 1975-1986. In 1983, Caldwell finished second in Class A to McDonald High School, losing by a mere two points, 94-96. The following year their margin of defeat was even slimmer, losing the state title to Dayton Christian High School by a single point, 79-80. 
After losing two state championships by a total of just three points, the Redskins came back with a vengeance. Over the next three years, 1985-1987, the Redskins made sure that there was no doubt as to who the Class A state champion was by posting the three of the lowest point totals in state cross country championship history, boys or girls. In 1985 the Redskins took the state title with a score of 33. In 1986, they bettered that with a 26, and in 1987 they set the all-time state record by winning the championship with an incredible score of just 25 points. Their narrowest margin of victory during those years was 54 points. Leading the team, literally, to victory in those three championships were Tony Carna, who finished first in both ’85 and ’86, and Brian Norris, who came in first in 1987. Carna also was the top finisher in 1984, making him one of only four boys in state history to win the state meet three times.
But the Redskins were just getting started.  In 1988, now under the direction of coach Dugan Hill, a former cross country runner himself at Caldwell High School, in one of the tightest meets in state history, Caldwell finished in a tie with East Canton High School, each school posting identical scores of 67. When the placing of each teams’ #6 runner was then factored in as the tiebreaker, Caldwell had won its fourth consecutive championship. 
Compared to that 1988 race, the next four years were relatively “easy.” Winning by an average of 56 points, the Redskins swept the Class A state championship in 1989, 1990, 1991, and 1992. In the 1990-1992 races, the Redskins were again led by a three-time individual winner, making Caldwell the only school in Ohio, and one of only four high schools in the entire country, to claim multiple three-time individual champions. That boy was Brian Hesson, who lowered his winning time each year, with his personal best time of 15:20.4 in 1992 missing the Div. III state record for the 5,000 meter course by a mere 1.3 seconds.
From 1985-1992 Caldwell High School won eight consecutive Ohio Class A cross country championships. That, plus their championship in 1973, makes the Redskins the most successful cross country team in state history. Their eight consecutive state titles also places the Redskins sixth in the nation all-time in consecutive state championships. During those same years, only one other school in the whole country, Gallup (New Mexico) High School, with 12 consecutive titles, was more successful than the runnin’ Redskins. 
Caldwell High School’s outstanding success has been recognized by the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches, who have inducted five Redskins into their Hall of Fame: coaches Rod O’Donnell, Ron Martin and Dugan Hill (still the Redskins’ cross country mentor), and runners Tony Carna and Brian Jonard.
Just as there have been some great teams in Ohio cross country, there have also been outstanding individuals as well. There are many boys who have managed to win these long distance races twice, but only a small handful can claim three victories. In addition to the two boys from Caldwell High School already mentioned, this elite group also includes Alan Scharsu of Austintown Fitch (1975-1977), George Nicholas from Dayton Meadowdale (1978-1980), and Vincent Fries from Attica Seneca East (1995, 1995, 1997). As nice as it was for Vincent Fries to win those individual championships, they had to have been a bit bittersweet, for his team from Attica Seneca East finished second in the state tournament all four years that Fries ran there, 1994-1997.
As the story of the Caldwell High School Redskins cross country team demonstrates, to be a state champion does not mean that one has to go to one of the “big” schools. Champions will find a way to be champions, and the size of their school really has nothing to do with it.

Girls Feature Article

By Timothy L. Hudak 
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
The state tournament for girls cross country got started just a few years later than that of the boys, 50 years later to be exact. For the first four years of the tournament, 1978-1981, the girls ran the old 2.5-mile distance, which, as for the boys, was increased to 3.1 miles (5,000 meters) in 1982. The classification of the schools in the girls’ competition has had its ups and downs, literally. First it was 2 classes (1978-1981), then three classes (1982-1988), then two divisions (1989-1993), and finally three divisions (1994-present). While all of this class and division changing may have wreaked havoc with the stats guys, the girls pretty much ignored it and just went out and ran their races – which is what they were there to do in the first place.
The girls’ team competition shows a history of one school dominating for a couple of years, then being overtaken by another front runner. For example, in the small school classifications (A, AA, II) from 1978-1990, the 20 state titles awarded were won by only nine schools. While most of these winning schools won two or three championships, and Sandusky St. Mary Central Catholic would take the state title four consecutive times (1987 to1990), only one of these early champions has remained a force in the small school divisions throughout the entire history of the state tournament. That school is Minster High School, oddly enough, the only state champion in those early days to win just a single title. 
Minster’s run of success began in 1982 when the Lady Wildcats won their first state title. Although they did not win their next championship until 1999, the girls were always in the thick of it, finishing as high as second place on three different occasions. Since 1999 the Lady Wildcats have been the premier cross country team in Division III, earning five state championships and one second place finish. In one race during the 2000 season, the girls even managed to sweep the first five finishing places, compiling an unheard of perfect score of 15. No cross country team in Ohio, girls or boys, can claim a record of success to match Minsters’ Lady Wildcats over the last seven years.
Several other schools have also enjoyed an extended run of success. The girls from Upper Arlington High School were winners in the first big school, Class AAA, state championship race in 1978. They followed up that championship by winning five of the next 12 titles, along with a second place finish. The current dominant team in Division I girls cross country is Cincinnati Colerain. From 1996 through 2004 the Lady Cardinals had the greatest success of any team in the big school division. They finished second to Beaver Creek High School in ’96, then won the next four state titles in succession. After a couple of “off” years, the Lady Cardinals let everyone know that they were back and flying high by placing second in both 2003 and 2004.
At present, the winningest team in girls cross country are the Blue Streaks of Beaumont School in Cleveland Heights.  Jim Emery took over as both the track and field and cross country coach at Beaumont in 1990, and it only took him a few short years to make his long distance runners as successful as the school’s track team has been. In 1993, when Beaumont was still a Division I school, the Blue Streaks captured their first state championship. The following year the team dropped down to Division II, to the delight of the other Division I schools, but to the definite dismay of the Division II competition. Beaumont would win the next three Division II state championships, but it was not always as easy as it may have looked. For example, in the 1996 championship race, Beaumont and Dover High School actually tied for first place after the scores of the first five girls were totaled. Going to the tie-breaking sixth runner, Beaumont’s depth prevailed and the Blue Streaks came away with a 60-130 victory. That same year the Blue Streaks were ranked as high as #4 nationally. 
Mogadore’s Field High School dominated the Division II cross country competition in 1997 and 1998, but then back came the Blue Streaks. In 1999 they edged out Field, 92-109, for the state title, and then won the championship each of the next two years by an average of 36 points. Although the Blue Streaks have not finished higher than 7th in the state tournament since their last title in 2002, they still hold the record for the most state championships by a girls’ team (7), and can never be counted out of any race that they enter.
While there have been many impressive teams in girls cross country, there have been just as many, if not more, impressive individual performers in the sport over the history of the state tournament. Many of these athletes have won two state championships, but those who really stand out have won three titles. Among these exceptional runners are Patty Metzler of Jackson-Milton High School (1980-81-82), Tina Cheney of Lima Shawnee (1981-82-83), Laurie Gomez from Boardman High School (1985-86-87), Michelle Borgert from Kirtland (1986-1987-1989), and Nicole LaSelle from Dayton Chaminade-Julienne High School (1993-94-95).
Two other girls made their mark in the girls cross country competition, not just because of their individual accomplishments, which includes success at the national as well as the state level, but because their success also helped propel their teams to greatness. 
Minster High School’s team success from 2000-2002 was in no small way aided by the success of Sunni Olding. In winning the Division III cross country race in 2000, 2002 and 2003, and finishing third in 2001, Ms. Olding led her team to state titles in both 2000 and 2001, and a second place finish in 2002. In 2003, Sunni Olding was undefeated in Ohio Division III cross country competition, and was named a USA Today High School All-American in both 2002 and 2003. 
From 1993-1996, Beaumont School owned Ohio girls cross country, and the undeniable leader of that team was Katy Radkewich, arguably Ohio’s greatest high school cross country runner - period. In 1993, as a freshman, Katy finished second in the Division I state meet to future three-time winner, Nicole LaSelle, by a mere 0:00.04, four one-hundredths of a second. It would prove to be the only race that Ms. Radkewich would ever lose to another Ohio high school runner in four years of cross country competition. By that narrowest of margins, Katy Radkewich missed becoming Ohio’s only four-time state cross country champion.
As a senior in 1996, Katy won the Division II state championship, her third straight title, with a time of 16:59.8, still the only girl to finish the 5,000-meter course in under 17 minutes. Her time in that race was so dominating, in fact, that she beat the second place finisher by almost two full minutes, one minute, 46.2 seconds to be exact – an almost unbelievable margin of victory. In 1995 Katy finished third in the national championships, then came back to take second place in 1996, thus earning All-American status two years in a row. 
When Katy Radkewich graduated from Beaumont after the 1996-1997 school year, there were probably more than a few observers of Ohio’s cross country scene who wondered how Katy managed to lose that one race back in 1993, her only defeat in Ohio. She may have wondered about it as well, but let’s give credit to the great champion who won that race, Nicole LaSelle, who can proudly claim to be the only Ohio high school girl to ever beat Katy Radkewich over hill and dale.