The Starting Line: How One Meeting In Schenectady Changed XC Forever (2016 Update)

The Starting Point: A Meeting in Schendectady

A long line of runners in the Class A race gets the gun in 1950 at Schenectady's Central Park.

The year was 1950, the beginning of everything. In an inner-city park in upstate New York, close to a hundred runners took the gun and started off in a race that would forever change the landscape of interscholastic sports.

The event, the first annual New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Cross Country State Championship, had a beginning spun from dreams and a result that literally hung by a shoestring. But the approximately 200 runners who ran in the two races on November 18, 1950, blazed the trail for later generations of HS athletes in all sports, and maybe even for the half of the state schools' student body that were barred from competing in interscholastic sports. A 2.2-mile journey by a few dozen guys has rarely been completed that affected the lives of so many others.

The story of the initial XC Class A race -- a close, wild, hard-fought, somewhat controversial affair -- and the year that led up to the State championship would set the tone for the meets and feats of the following decades. Along with the guys in the Class B race, the 1950 harriers would get New York off and running to the then unimaginable triumphs of today.

The forces that brought together the runners for the two pioneering races in Schenectady were unleashed from a variety of new developments in American social and financial trends, changing state demographics, and shifting ideas about participation in sports. The event followed upon decades of changes in the country's running scene, and public perceptions on athletics were fast being altered in the mid-20th century. A meet that had been terminated years before had overcome the opposition and was about to begin anew.

Although some of the ideas of the early to mid 1900s may seem wrong-headed and even a little shocking to modern high school athletes, in a current age when there is concern about overuse injuries in young athletes, gender-related health issues for many sports activities, and sports-related behavioral problems, we should remember that we are still learning how to deal with many of the same dilemmas that earlier generations wrestled with.

Much of the story of the race and the quarter-century of running leading up to it has been lost over the intervening years, but enough of the tale remains in scattered accounts and fuzzy grainy archive photos to hang the legends high in the rafters of NY high school running lore.

Looking back today over more than 6 1/2 decades of the New York States Cross Country Championships, all we can say to the participants of the first meet is, "Good start" and "Thanks."

Section Links

The Starting Point - Setting Up

Getting Back to States - A Season of Changes

The Return of the Champions