By TIM CLEVELAND
Over his four-year varsity career, Boardman cross country runner Mark Hadley has been one of the top runners, not only in the area, but state wide.
While he’s wrapping up his outstanding career with the Spartans, Hadley has chosen to continue his academic and athletic careers at Furman University, located in Greenville, S.C.
“It’s the perfect environment for a runner to be,” he said of his decision. “The weather’s nice year round and there’s not much of a winter. The coach [Robert Gary] was an Olympian. They have a pro team funded by the university that you train with. I’m not just going to be a member of a track team, in the long run they’re trying to get runners in the pro squad and in the Olympic Trials.”
Hadley, who will major in exercise science, chose the Paladins over Ohio State, Wisconsin and North Carolina State.
Boardman coach John Phillips had no doubt as who is the best runner in school history.
“He’s by far the best in the history of the school and he’s the best I’ve ever coached,” said Phillips, who has been Boardman’s coach since 2009.
Phillips said that while Furman proved to be a wild card in recruiting Hadley, he said the senior made the correct choice.
“That was probably the only school I wasn’t contacted by during the recruiting process,” Phillips said. “I was on the phone all summer with Yale and other Ivy League schools, Ohio State and Texas A&M. Furman came out of left field. Mark filled me in on what they are doing as a distance program. I also did some self-educating and what I’ve seen is they are an outstanding distance program and a top-notch academic school.
“The school he getting is phenomenal. Track and cross school money is limited, but Furman was a very impressive full ride. It’s tough for a student-athlete to pass up.”
Hadley said the Furman cross country program is one on the rise.
“Their head coach just left Ohio State a few years ago,” he said. “They have the fourth-ranked recruiting class last year for cross country. They (the university) just decided to pick a sport and put money in it and they picked cross country.”
Hadley has been one of the most decorated cross country runners the area has produced. He placed 10th as a freshman in the Division I district meet before winning it the last three seasons. At regionals, he was third as a sophomore and second last season. He will be competing for the regional championship Saturday at his home course at Boardman High School. His best finish at state was fifth as a sophomore while he was sixth last year.
“It was a huge deal for me,” Hadley said of that state placing. “My goal was maybe top 20 and I ended up having the day of my life.”
Hadley said he has many fond memories of running for Boardman.
“A lot of things this year; setting the Spartan Invitational home course record is probably the best I’ve ever run so far,” he said.
He added that setting his personal record of 15:06 this season at the Federal League championship meet also stands out. That is the school record.
Phillips said Hadley’s coming-out party was his performance at the state meet as a sophomore.
“His sophomore year when he ran in Columbus at the state meet,” Phillips said. “We were hoping to be in the top 24 which would be all-Ohio status, and he ended up on the podium. I had several coaches amazed and congratulating me, saying that was the best race they had ever seen from such a young kid. From that race on, he got a lot of attention from major schools and the media.”
As far as future goals, Hadley said, “I’d like to keep my undefeated record for regionals (making state). My main goal is making the Foot Locker National meet. The (Midwest) regional qualifier for it is on Nov. 30 in (Somers,) Wis. If I qualify, I’ll get to run the national race in San Diego on Dec 14.”
Hadley said he has high expectations for his collegiate career, not only for himself but for the Furman program.
“In college I’d like to be a part of a great team,” he said. “I’d like to contribute as a freshman next year. For the program, the goal is to qualify for nationals. It’d be huge for Furman. Up until recently they haven’t been in the conversation (for nationals). I’d like to see how far I can take running and possibly be a pro at it.”