Running champs praise coaches
By Greg Gulas
Cross country champions from McDonald and Boardman high schools spoke to the Curbstone Coaches on Monday at Luciano’s Banquet Center.
Individual state winners Bobby Johnson (McDonald) and Mark Hadley (Boardman) as well as the McDonald boys team were guest speakers.
Johnson’s feat marked the first time that McDonald has won a team and individual championship in the same year.
Hadley, who was Gatorade’s Ohio cross country runner of the year and is a finalist for national honors, helped the Spartans to a fourth-place finish, tying the program’s highest team finish set in 1985.
Johnson is a perfect 4.0 student who is headed to Butler University where he will study journalism. He’s only the third McDonald cross country runner to win a state championship — Stuart Henderson (1989) and Becky Testa (1994) are the others.
“Not many runners get to experience an individual and state title in the same year so for me that was very special,” Johnson said. “Coach [Chris] Rupe has a passion for the sport that is unparalleled.
“He’s a great coach who has unique training methods and his practices that are absolutely grueling,” Johnson said. “He can find a runner, works with them and just always seems to get the most out of them.
“I cannot imagine running for anyone else.”
Under Rupe, the Blue Devils have seven state championships and six runners-up finishes in 17 seasons. They have won 17 straight league titles, 10 Trumbull County championships and five regional crowns. McDonald has averaged a 1.9 finish in 14 of the past 15 state meets.
“This one was very exciting because it was unexpected,” Rupe said. “We knew we had in us something better than we had shown during the regular season.
“When you finish second in the district and third in the regionals, you don’t win state titles, unless you find the heart and this team found it in Columbus.”
Hadley, who has also earned a 4.0 GPA, is headed to Furman University upon graduation and will be a member of the Purple Paladins cross county squad.
Winning the state championship was anticlimactic in his eyes since his top competition, Nick Elswick of Chardon High School was hurt and he had already defeated him at the Spartan Invitational.
“We were one-two at the Spartan Invitational and while I felt I had a good chance at the state, it’s still a great feeling when you cross the finish line ahead of everyone else,” Hadley said. “Coach [John] Phillips has always been there for me, taught me a lot and there is no one that I would want to run for.”
In five seasons as head coach, Phillips has led the Spartans to five Mahoning County championships, two Federal League crowns, two district titles and a regional championship.
Denise Gorski, Boardman athletic director who spent 36 years as a Spartans track and field coach, said, “Coach Phillips has a passion and dedication to our program and athletes and has helped make the past four years very, very special for all of us at Boardman High School.
“Mark is by far the top male cross country athlete to ever compete at Boardman High School and winning the state individual championship is an amazing accomplishment,” Gorski said.