30th Anniversary: 1989 Connecticut State Open XC Championship

Tomorrow is the Connecticut High School State Open Cross-Country Championships at Wickham Park in Manchester. In recent years I have gone to watch and cheer on the runners. Tomorrow will be no different. Last night, I visited the Mary Cheney Library on Main Street in Manchester and dug through the archives of The Hartford Courant and Manchester Herald. I used their last remaining microfiche to review film that captured some amazing memories.

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I wrote about the 1989 State Open back in 2009 on the 20th anniversary of the East Catholic High School XC Team’s state championship season. 10 years later, I’m revisiting that magical season and reliving it through my own kids. Shepard will participate on a similar course on Saturday when Wickham Park hosts the Connecticut Middle School XC Championships. He and his teammates will run on the same ground that I ran on 30 years ago. Debbie is the coach of the Bolton Center School Boys & Girls XC Teams, so this is very much a family affair.

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30 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.

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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 experienced heartbreak a year earlier in 1988 when he finished 26th, one spot out of the All-State rankings.

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In 1989, he defied all expectations with his victory. During the season, he won dual meets and placed high in the invitationals, but was 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.

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1989 was the year that I really learned about setting goals. Our young 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.

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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.

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We nailed it and 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, as a bonus, 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 after 30 years, I am now a coach and mentor to others and I truly understand what Coach Haggerty’s methods were about.


CIAC Boys Team & Individual Champions, 1932-2013
CIAC Girls Team & Individual Champions, 1973-2013

There are some amazing runners on these lists and the fact that the girls didn’t compete until 1973 says a lot about the sport in those days. Thankfully, they get equal billing in 2019. 

6 Responses to “30th Anniversary: 1989 Connecticut State Open XC Championship”

  1. 1 Juston Manville 1 November 2019 at 10:07 am

    I love it, Scott. I think I first met you and Chris playing pee-wee hockey but then got to know you better running TAC Junior Olympics. I remember you guys handing me bags of M& M’s representing your class MM victory. The funny thing is that I remember every name mentioned in the posted articles.

    Today’s open should be a special day for a couple reasons. 1) CT’s will be repping it best three runners since JT Burke and Tom Sheeran. I think we have 4 boys in the top 30 nationally. 2) The weather is perfect New England XC weather; cold and muddy.

    I’m pumped !!!

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