Getting Back to States: The Two Decade Journey to the Starting Line
The early years of the NY state intersectional championships ended in the early 1930s, right with the advent of the Great Depression. In an era of straitened financial circumstances and rising concern about the ever increasing role and emphasis of sports at schools, the state's athletic organizations through the NYSPHSAA ended the State championships, leaving Sectional tournaments as the highest level of scholastic sports for most athletes. Even the sectional meets started to lapse in most areas.
Money was the driving force behind many of the NYSPHSAA decisions, as the comparatively flush times of the early 1920s had disappeared and schools could no longer fund big championships pulling together qualifiers from around the state. The the New York City scholastic organizations though were able to keep their contests going for the teams in their boroughs. Upstate, the NYSPHSAA started to accept some Catholic and prep schools such as the Notre Dame schools of Elmira and Utica into the ranks as cost saving measures.
The athletes most harshly affected by the new strictures were the girls, who not only had their States basketball championship taken away but were also soon barred from playing in any interscholastic sports. School officials clearly felt that any competitive sports activities for girls were unhealthy. Girls who had once proudly raised their trophies as state relay champions (in swimming) were now thrown back to depending on whatever local clubs could offer. The American Athletic Union would gradually step in with more limited opportunities that would lead to regional and national AAU championships for girls in track by the 1960s. However, for state high schools four decades would pass before girls would again make an appearance in a state championship, and this time it would start with the runners in track and cross-country.
|A big meet at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx is off and away in November 1931.|
The era without state championships in New York continued for
nearly two decades. Though the Depression had put an end to States, the 1930s and 1940s turned out in many ways to be a boom time for high school cross country. XC was a sport that could be run almost literally on a shoe string, and for the schools that did invest something in the sport, the payback could be very big. Though college football was the big news maker below the arena of baseball, boxing, and other professional sports, the collegiate news was rife with scandals and a death toll from each weekend's slate of brutally physical matches in the fall. High school running offered something very different.
A country in need of heroes and low-cost entertainment was naturally drawn to the daring young "thin clads" of the trails and the teams that traveled to city parks from Boston to Philadelphia to battle for championship glory with just their steely guts. In New York, the running competitions for the top boys stayed highly competitive for schools in the NYC-Schenectady-Syracuse axis, as the advent of the age of big invitational meets began in earnest.
Newtown runner Ed Weille was the top guy in New York City races in 1931 as he won the prestigious Columbia University Inviational (left) and the PSAL championship at right. No identification was provided for the man in the sweater and tie running next to Weille, Tour de France style.|
The big matches were the various "Spiked Shoe" contests that NYC universities had set up in Van Cortlandt Park to lure in the best scholastic runners as the opening act for their own collegiate matches. The two-to-four-hour bus ride for teams from Albany and Syracuse became a standard regimen as they went on their weekly quests for golden trophies to fill their showcases. Curtis HS of Staten Island continued to be the top NYC school into the early 1930s, but a host of other PSAL schools such as Newtown, Dewitt Clinton and Brooklyn Tech were giving chase, and in the CHSAA the Brooklyn-based Bishop Loughlin team was starting to get untracked for a period of dominance that would lead it to 15 of 16 association titles between 1936 and 1950, losing only in 1939 on a tie-breaker. The headlining top runner in 1931 was Newtown's Ed Weille, who won almost every big race that year and finished 1st at Nationals.
In 1931 XC teams around the state may have breathed a sigh of relief at the news that
Schenectady HS was splitting in half to become separate Nott Terrace and Mont Pleasant schools. But if anything, the competition for schools outside of Schenectady was now doubled, as a ferocious intra-city battle raged between Bill Eddy's
Nott Terrace team and the Mont Pleasant team coached by recent Springfield University grad Norm Kitching. Newspaper writers from cities outside of Schenectady would have a difficult time keeping the two teams straight in the following years, sometimes printing headlines stating that the star runner of one of two rivals had led the other team to victory with his 1st place finish.
|Nott Terrace coach Bill Eddy and Mont Pleasant coach Norm Kitching engaged in a very heated but generally friendly 27-year rivalry in cross country after Schenectady HS split into the two schools in 1931.|
Although respectful of each other, Eddy and Kitching would go at it right from the start while setting the boundaries. In 1931, Kitching ended Eddy's 7-year run of Manhattan Invitational championships when he issued a successful post-race official challenge concerning a Nott Terrace scoring runner who was over the scholastic age limit. That move allowed Kitching's Mont Pleasant team to slide into a 81-85 win, though it would be a rare one for Kitching's Red Raiders over Eddy's Blue Devils.
The disqualification was viewed as payback for Eddy's days'-earlier successful challenge against two Mont Pleasant runners who had already graduated but were still on the squad, but Kitching's tactic of waiting until the Manhattan race was over to issue his challenge raised some eyebrows. The Schenectady school boards hurriedly hammered out a new set of administrative rules to clean up the system and keep tensions from escalating. Two weeks after the Manhattan meet, Eddy's Nott Terrace team dominated the Columbia University race over Curtis and 3rd-place Mont Pleasant and then went on to win another Nationals title in Newark.
|The 1932 national runner-up Nott Terrace cross country team poses with coach Bill Eddy at left, and next to him is ace runner and future coach Ray Vacca.|
Though it lost at the 1932 Nationals to a Presque Isle, ME, team, Nott Terrace would continue to win most of the big NYC area and national titles throughout the decade, including seven straight Manhattan Invitational wins between 1934 and 1940. Cross-town rival Mont Pleasant almost always seemed to wind up in the runner-up role, though they did get in for an occasional win at the big upstate meet hosted by RPI University, a precursor to the Grout meet. And though Eddy's teams in cross country and track were not highly integrated, they did include some black runners, and Cletus Stamper in particular was one of the top guys on the 1935 national champion cross country squad at a time that much of the nation's high school teams were completely segregated.
|At left, runners enter the cow path at Van Cortlandt Park in the 1935 Manhattan Invitational. At right, reigning national champ Len Dauenhauer of Syracuse Central stormed home first down a finishing stretch lined by police, some on horseback.|
The Nott Terrace packs did win the big majority of the team titles throughout the 1930s, but other teams often provided the individual winners. Syracuse Central's Len Dauenhauer put on a spectacular show in 1934 by capturing a number of the upstate meets and then surprising two-time reigning champ Steve Szumanchowski of Mont Pleasant at the end of the Nationals race when Szumanchowski ill-advisedly looked back, 15 yards from the finish. Dauenhauer continued to make national headlines in 1935 when he won the Manhattan Invitational, and his younger brother Ernest also battled for the top spot in many of the big races of the mid 1930s.
|Mont Pleasant's Steve Szumachowski won two national championships in 1932 and 1933 and was the runner-up in 1931 and 1934.|
If any team was known for having the big guy though, it was Mont Pleasant. One thing that Norm Kitching's Red Raiders especially excelled at was developing the top runner.who stole the headlines of both the New York City and local Schenectady newspapers. The first of the great MP runners was the Polish national Steve Szumachowski, who broke into the big time in 1931 as a sophomore and dominated the upstate action. But Szumachowski lost six straight races in his first year between cross country and track to Newtown LI runner Ed Weille, which made the Red Raider star focused on an "early to bed, early to rise" training program that would lead to a long undefeated string and two national cross country championships in 1932 and 1933. He simply destroyed the fields at the Manhattan Invitational, setting records of first 11:47 and then 11:31 at the meet on the the 2 3/8 mile course during his junior and senior years.
|Steve Szumachowski of Mont Pleasant fought through the crowds near the finish to win the 1933 Manhattan Invitational and then posed with the three runners who took the next three places: Joseph McClain of Manhattan Prep, John Wilson of Jamaica, and Frank Maciewski of Mount Vernon.|
After graduating from Mont Pleasant, Szumachowski traveled to Warsaw to pick up a double win at the Polish Olympics in the summer of 1934. He then attended Mercersburg Academy in PA which did not have NY's stricter age rule requirements so that he could try for a third straight national title. In 1934 though he lost by 1/5 of a second to Syracuse Central star Len Dauenhauer when he decided to take that glance back just as Dauenhauer surged by him in a race that saw five guys break the previous meet record..
Before Szumanchowski went off to Notre Dame University to continue his storied running career, he raced against the next great Mont Pleasant champion during a summer road race in Schenectady. Ray Trail was a member of the Mohawk tribe on the St. Regis reservation close to the Canadian border whose prodigious running efforts including a marathon win as a 14-year-old led to a transfer down to Schenectady to run for the Red Raiders. Already at least 17 when he started at Mont Pleasant as a sophomore, Trail made a big impact right away, although he was beaten at the Manhattan Invitational by Len Dauenhauer in 1935.
|Ray Trail at left moved to Mont Pleasant from a Mohawk reservation in northern New York and became the top high school runner in the nation in the mid 1930s. At right he poses with Ernest Dauenhauer of Syracuse Central at the 1935 Manhattan Invitational after Trail's win.|
Like Szumachowski, Trail was brilliant in his last two cross country seasons, winning two national XC titles in 1935 and 1936 and setting the world interscholastic record for the mile in track. Still, running for a team called the Red Raiders was tough for Trail, and he was almost invariably identified in headlines as "the Indian runner" or "the full-blooded Indian runner." Kitching admitted that local prejudice against the Mohawk runner was a problem and that "Lots of things came up that made it disagreeable for Trail at Mont Pleasant."
Another problem for Trail was NYC subways, on which he got lost and missed a run at the Columbia Invitational just two weeks after he went off-course while leading the 1935 Manhattan Invitational and was only pulled back for a 2nd place finish by Nott Terrace star Richard Slade in a gesture that showed that the arch-rival teams still valued sportsmanship. Trail left Mont Pleasant before graduation in early 1937 for a Worcester MA prep school that would allow him to continue competing in interscholastic sports as a 20 year old.
Besides Richard Slade, champion in the 1935 Columbia Invitational, Nott Terrace also had a number of stars who ran a short ways behind Mont Pleasant's Szumachowski and Trail but led their teams to many national championships. Ray Vacca was the Blue Devils captain in 1934 who sometimes finished not far behind Szumachowski in the early 1930s, and his leadership qualities were highly lauded by Coach Eddy in the years before Vacca graduated and became a star for Manhattan College. Bill Leonard was another guy who moved up through the Nott Terrace ranks in the late 1930s and ended up winning the Manhattan Invitational in 1940. Both Vacca and Leonard picked up the lessons on how to build winning teams from Eddy's methods, and they would use these techniques effectively in later years.
|Bill Eddy's national champion Nott Terrace teams included the 1933 team at left and 1935 team at right. Team captains Ray Vacca of the 1933 team and Dick Slade of the 1935 squad are in the front row third from left in both pictures.|
By the end of the 1930s, new XC meets were beginning to rise to the forefront of NY and Eastern US competitions. In 1938, the New York University Spiked Shoe meet started attracting the top schools to gather in late October at Van Cortlandt Park course, and Nott Terrace ran off with three of the first four titles. Up north, the Schenectady schools started the Grout Invitational in 1939 on a course covering a little over 2 miles at the city's Central Park in mid November.
Surprisingly, neither of the city's powerhouse teams were able to win any of the first four Grout Meets, as XC powers such Eastwood HS of Syracuse, Newtown HS of Long Island, and Bishop Loughlin Memorial HS of Brooklyn took the titles. Nott Terrace was the perennial Grout runner-up until breaking through for championships in 1943 and 1947. Teams that won the Grout often went on to win or finish 2nd the South Orange NJ meet that became known now as the Eastern Intersectional national championship, which had been moved to Thanksgiving Day at the Branch Brook Park course near Seton Hall University. Nationals now included teams from around the US east of the Mississippi. One other upstate meet that became prestigious was the Proctor Invitational (EJ Herrmann) begun in Utica in 1941 and won by the host Proctor HS the first two years and then by Nott Terrace for 11 of the next 14 meets.
|Bishop Loughlin's winning squad at the 1948 Grout meet pose with yet another big showcase-stuffing trophy. Star sophomore runner Bob Kubic is second from left, and Coach Bill Miles is at right.|
By the early 1940s, Bishop Loughlin under coach Bill Miles had risen to the top of NY's XC and track world, running off impressive victory streaks in the big meets, including 7 Grout championships between 1941 and 1950 as Bob Kubic took over as NY's star runner at the mid century. Syracuse Eastwood and Syracuse Central high schools also had great runs upstate, and longtime power Curtis HS of Staten Island was facing a challenge from Brooklyn Automotive Technical School and New Utrecht down in NYC's PSAL action. By the late 1940s, the growth of the NYC suburbs began to fuel the rise of teams such as Sewanhaka and Port Jefferson on Long Island and New Rochelle, Mount Vernon, and Gorton (Yonkers) in Westchester County.
Somewhere along the line the NYSPHSAA had consolidated the old 14-section public school division of the state into a 10 section system that included by number, 1 for Westchester-Putnam-Dutchess counties of the eastern Lower Hudson Valley; 2 for the Upper Hudson Valley region around Albany; 3 for the Central New York region around Syracuse; 4 for the Southern Tier region around Binghamton, Elmira, and Ithaca; 5 for the Monroe County and region stretching southward from Rochester; 6 for the Western New York area around Buffalo; 7 for the northeastern NY Adirondack region; 8 for Long Island; 9 for Rockland, Orange, Sullivan and other counties of the western Lower Hudson Valley; and 10 for the northwest Adirondack area. Long Island would be split in 1957 with Nassau County keeping number 8 and Suffolk getting 11. The New York City public and private schools remained outside of the NYSPHSAA along with the Buffalo Catholic schools. Over the decades there would be extensive movement of schools between sections either en masse as when Rockland County joined section 1 in 1984 or individually as when Corning and Norwich moved to Section 4 from Sections 5 and 3 respectively. Overall, it would be the sections that would become a huge driving force in the move back to to state championships.
World War II brought about some changes for interscholastic sports as high school graduates who would once have been eying college time were instead enlisting for military service. Wartime restrictions halted the national championship meet for a few years starting in 1943, though the meets around the state went on at a more limited level during October and November. Nott Terrace replaced the annual Thanksgiving Day trip to Nationals with a Turkey Day run at the Hudson Valley Interscholastic Championship in Poughkeepsie that began in 1943 and would continue strong after the war ended in 1945.
|Shown here winning the Grout championship, John Meader led the Nott Terrace team in 1948 during Ray Vacca's one-year coaching tenure with his old squad.|
In the post World War II era, a new focus on interscholastic athletics began to flourish again as a baby boom occurred and young families looked for good opportunities for their kids to excel in. Dozens of new high schools hoping to get their names in the limelight were added to the NY rosters, and more and more the new ones being added were large regional schools designed to serve the needs of a group of adjacent towns. Building a winning football program could often take a long time and a lot of money, but winning a sectional crown in cross country team took far less effort. Developing top XC teams required great coaches, however, and schools around the state began naturally to turn to the young college graduates who had competed for running powers such as Nott Terrace and Mont Pleasant to take the helm.
A changing of the guard also happened in Schenectady in the late 1940s. Bill Eddy retired from Nott Terrace coaching duties in June 1948 to become the city's superintendent of parks and recreation. The final 1947 XC season had been a great year for the Blue Devils that included Grout and Manhattan wins and a 2nd place at Nationals to Bishop Loughlin. A further and tragic change occurred when Mont Pleasant's Norm Kitching took ill and was hospitalized in October of 1946 and died the following June at the age of just 46. The former Nott Terrace star Ray Vacca had replaced Eddy at his old school and led the Blue Devils to a 2nd place at Nationals in 1948, but he took the Mont Pleasant job for the 1949 season to restore a program devastated by the loss of its popular "Coach Kitch." Replacing Vacca at Nott Terrace was another former Blue Devil star, a young Bill Leonard. Nott Terrace alumni were beginning to fill up the coaching ranks, and one of Leonard's own early stars Dave Cotton would go on to coach the dominant XC team of the mid 1960s, Fox Lane down in Section 1.
|Coach Ray Vacca with Nott Terrace runners John Meader and Bill Albers after the two finished 1st and 2nd at the Grout championship in 1948.|
Seeing his former charges take over the reins at Nott Terrace and other schools was gratifying to Eddy, but he certainly did not consider himself done with XC and other sports activities. Over the years he had branched out in many directions, taking up basketball and speed skating coaching duties and also leading the highly successful RPI university cross country team starting in 1938. Now as supervisor of Schenectady's parks system, he had a great idea for how his city's Central Park could be best employed.
Eddy had been organizing events for years. He had been a driving force behind getting the big Grout meet going in 1939 to serve as an early season proving ground for teams around the state, and he also had organized a quasi state championship outdoor track meet starting in 1941 called the Schenectady Policemen's Benevolent Association Sports Carnival that would become by the 1960s almost a national championship meet before it was renamed the William F. Eddy Jr. Games in honor of the coach's beloved son who died in a car accident in 1968. In 1938 after NYSPHSAA instituted a one-year ban on NY teams competing at the Nationals race in Newark because the event was being sponsored by a prep school, Eddy organized a meet at Union College he called the Little Nationals event because it involved likely the three best teams in the nation in a showdown, with Nott Terrace taking on undefeated Manlius Academy and and Eastwood of Syracuse. The Blue Devils won of course. In his final year coaching at Nott Terrace, Eddy had also spearheaded the return of sectional championships for the Section 2 teams after a lapse of almost two decades.
Intending to keep improving cross country scene after his retirement, Eddy developed a new system for scoring finishers of a race that cut the average time for announcing results from 40 minutes to 15, and it was quickly adopted at all major meets. But now as the respected elder statesman of NY XC, Eddy had a final great vision of bringing back the NY State Intersectional Championship and hosting it like the Grout on his city's Central Park course. Upstate teams had held Eastern New York or Northern New York championships in the 1940s, and Section 2 had revived its own sectional championship in 1948 after a long hiatus. But the Section 2 meet mainly just featured contests between many different level squads from Nott Terrace and Mont Pleasant, designated A for the top squad through G for the lowest level runners. Eddy thought the state was ready to bring the public schools together for a meet that would feature hard-fought affairs between the best runners and teams from all the sections.
|The members of the supervisory committee for the 1948 Grout Invitational included at least two Schenectady leaders who would be highly instrumental in bringing the state cross country championship back to New York, Howard Wescott and Bill Eddy, seated at center. Ray Vacca, standing at center, was then coaching at Nott Terrace before moving to Mont Pleasant in 1949.|
Eddy worked his channels, and support for his idea was finally pulled together at a meeting in September 1950. At the planning event was a committee that included a member from all 8 sections that participated in cross country. Howard Wescott, the Schenectady schools' physical education supervisor represented Section 2 as the committee chairman, and other members were Arthur Lynch (Bronxville, Sect. 1), Eliott Hunt (Utica, Sect. 3), Sidney Stock (Vestal, Sect. 4), Don Munson (Snyder, Sect. 5), KC Hausner (Port Henry, Sect. 6), Herbert Williamson (Valley Stream, Sect. 8), and Edward Kincaid (Congers, Sect. 9).
In the original announcements about the state intersectional meet, only Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, and 9 were going to be participating, but Section 6 decided to send teams a while later to form a group of seven sectional groups for the first of the state intersectional meets. All seven sections would enter teams and individual runners in the inaugural meet. The lone section at the planning meet that did not send any teams was Section 5, which would not provide runners until 1967 and full teams until 1968.
The Intersectional Meet Committee would put together a structure for the initial meet that basically still stands today with some modifications. First, the members decided to follow the two-tier race system used in Section 2's meet and split the competition between an A race for large schools and a B race for small schools. Each section was to select one team of 7 runners to represent it in a team competition, plus up to 7 more at-large runners who would compete along with runners from the selected team in a sectional contest. All runners were eligible to win the third title, the individual crown. Each runner would wear a special meet shirt with a shield logo and the names and the assigned color of their section, which for Section 1 was light blue and Section 2 was maroon, and so on. To distinguish each section's "team" runners from their at-large "sectional" runners, the team representatives would wear gold shorts, also provided by the sectional committees.
It was perhaps a given from the beginning that the meet would
be held at the fairly central NY location of Central Park in
Schenectady used for the Grout, for which Bill Eddy was now the supervisor. The first five
States meets would eventually be held there, though the original plan called for the state championship to be rotated between different sectional venues starting in 1951.
There were a few meet details for 1950 that were a bit different from the modern format. The score in the Sectional competition at States would be determined by the placements of the top 10 runners from each section's team of 14 rather than 12 guys. The Sectional competition was considered at least as important as the Team competition, while today the Section scores are hardly even noticed. The top 10 runners in each race received a fist-sized "Oscar," or trophy, while the winning Team squads received tie clasps (yes, kids wore ties back then), the winning Section squad's top 5 finishers received medals, and a big trophy was given to the champion A and B teams. A mobile broadcast unit was to be set up in Central Park to provide radio coverage of the meet.
One detail was perhaps a little fuzzy. The Team score was to be determined by the placement of the top 5 runners of each team, but what was not fully specified was whether all of the at-large runners in a race would count or just the ones competing for the official 7-member teams. This question may have loomed large in the controversy that would mark the 1950 Class A race. And the man who would have to sort out the scoring issues on race day would be that sports technology wizard Bill Eddy.
|Intersectional Championship Committee Chairman Howard Wescott shows off the section runners shirt and awards for the 1950 meet.|
With everything pretty much set, all that was left to do was to find out
which teams and runners would be appearing at Central Park on November
18, 1950 to battle for the championships.