1989 Connecticut State High School Cross Country Championships

Today was the Connecticut High School Cross Country State Championships at Wickham Park in Manchester. I rode by the course on my bike commute home from work last night and it brought back memories of 1989. 20 years ago, my East Catholic High School cross-country team won the Class MM State Championships on the same course. I was a Senior member of the team and was the 4th runner on the team. With that race, we met the expectations of our coach, Paul Haggerty, and ended a multi-year state championship drought (all sports) for the school.

Six days later, on the same course, in epic conditions (wind, rain, and mud), our team placed third in the State Open, which exceeded expectations. Even more spectacular, was the surprise individual victory by my teammate Christopher Ray (a Junior). Chris was seeded 25th and had shown promise all season long, but didn’t have any comparable results. He won dual meets and placed high in the invitationals, but never first in such a talented field. To go out and beat all of the favorites on a muddy course, proved his potential. We ended up getting tons of well deserved attention for both the team and individual results. Our number two runner, Daniel Feehan, also exceeded expectations with an 11th place finish. Dan Thiery was fourth runner for the team that day. I was third, Sean Valencia was fifth man. Greg Ciaglo and Craig Damaschi rounded out our seven man team.

1989 was the year that I really learned about setting goals. Our coach, Paul Haggerty, was an excellent runner with great discipline. He was credible because he could run with us and often outrun us. He was non-traditional. We did focused track workouts in the fall. We did tons of plyometrics, including bounders, and striders. He also made us run a lot of hills. He was a stickler for stretching. Like any group of teenage boys, we drove him absolutely nuts. The night before the class meets, we even phoned him from a pizza parlor and faked like we had been arrested for causing trouble. Looking back, I actually feel sorry for what we put him through, but it was classic rebelliousness at the time.

Coach Haggerty had a saying, “You peak when the leaves fall.” He also said it was good luck to catch leaves. I still maintain that superstition today. All season, we underwhelmed and underperformed. I remember that tensions were high, especially with some of the parents, because he had us training right through the early and mid-season races. We were going to peak late, which in his book, was right on time. He didn’t care about anything but the last two races. In pre-season, he assessed our talent and set winning the Class Meet and finishing top five in the State Open as the prime objectives. Everything else was training.

We nailed it and a much of the credit goes to his coaching. He molded us the way he wanted and fortunately, we all performed. One week after the Open, we went to the New England Championships and as a team, flopped. Several of us actually got sick. With the exception of Chris Ray, who took third place and was again the top Connecticut runner, the rest of us were cooked. We had peaked at the right time and then we were done.

It is cool to look back on that season and the end result, which was great success. My goal and objective setting in business and sport were permanently influenced by what we accomplished back then. Same for teamwork. Looking back, I now understand what Coach Haggerty’s methods were all about.

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