W&M XC Part 3: Glimpses into the 1970s and 1980s
The men's program's first NCAA Championship appearance was in 1963 with a 17th place finish led by Jimmy Johnson’s 16th place. Jimmy Johnson narrowly missed All-American status as in the 1960s only the first 15 runners received the award. Over the course of the next 12 seasons, William & Mary would appear an additional 8 times at the Championship event with a 4th place finish in 1973 in Spokane, Washington. In 1982, the NCAA codified a qualifying system, which limited the field to 22 teams until 1997 when the field expanded to 31 teams. Before then, Athletic Directors would only send teams capable of high placings or if travel was cheap.
Having a strategy to reduce travel budgets by only sending strong teams to the NCAA when a good place was practically guaranteed seems short-sighted in retrospect. At some point you need to take chances on your team. Fortunately, Coach Randolph somehow convinced the W&M AD to send the 1973 team to Spokane, Washington. That was the scene of the men’s team highest placing---thus far. The team arrived to find 6 inches of snow on the ground. Saturday, while the team was jogging the course, Ron Martin felt a pain in his left leg. Ron had consistently been the highest place runner for the team so this was a major development. Randolph “diagnosed” it as a shin splint. It wasn’t better Sunday so Randolph took Ron to the hospital for treatment. When the team lined up for the start on Monday, Ron was there and ready to compete.
He made it about 400 yards before collapsing. Coaches from 2 other teams carried Ron to the medical tent. X-rays revealed a fractured tibia. Ron left Williamsburg with high hopes and came home on crutches. Bill Louv’s 17th place led the team to 4th place. Although this was an amazing finish, privately, many wonder what would have happened if Ron had been able to compete. It does not take much imagination to see that Ron would have helped put W&M in the top 3.
Yet, there was one key athlete on that team and on that day. With Ron out due to a broken leg, Reggie Clark, the All-American half miler, became the 5th man on the team.
In the early 1970s, a young track & field athlete from Newport News had placed 2nd in the Virginia State High School Championships in the 2 mile. However, slightly less well known was that he had run 48 seconds on the 440 leg of a mile relay. That athlete was Reggie Clark. Nobody had connected the dots that he could be a legitimate contender at all distances in between. In his senior year of high school, he attempted his first 880.
When Reggie enrolled at the College, he was one of 17 African Americans at the College. Although the College had integrated some years earlier, the presence of African Americans was not uniformly welcomed throughout the College. There was a well-known sociology teacher who would fail all African American students and in fact, a lawsuit was brought against him by the NAACP. Until that happened, African American students would have to work together to make each other aware of which professors would fail them simply due to the color of their skin. In cross country, which was largely made up of white athletes throughout the country, Reggie was one of the few African Americans participating in the sport. Within William & Mary, he was the sole African American athlete on the cross country team.
Reggie found it denigrating to be asked to put forward his views on an issue speaking for all African Americans as if they were one monolithic group of people. His teammates and Coach Randolph provided an escape from this pressure. When recently asked about the atmosphere on the cross country team, Reggie is unequivocal that Randolph set an atmosphere of mutual respect where he could thrive. At a college with a complicated history of racial relations, John Randolph allowed integration to take place.
Reggie was a natural talent and had a wide range being able to post a 1:49.1 in the 880, a 4:06 in the mile, as well as finding success at cross country. After graduating from the college, Reggie would pay forward what he had generously received from Randolph as well as others.
Nationally, the model for scholarships changed in the 1980s. Other top NCAA programs began awarding more scholarships than W&M. As a result, attracting talent on a consistent basis and enough of it to field an NCAA Championship team was difficult. The best way to understand the difficulty in this is the number of All Americans in the cross country and track & field programs during this period. There is a void between Mac Collins becoming All-American in 1977 and Ken Halla 1984 and 1985.
Coach Chernock was also undeniably more focused on both the indoor and outdoor seasons. Some of the athletes of that era have speculated that the reasoning may have been the heavy emphasis on recruiting athletes who were New York-based, which necessitated competing at the Millrose Games for the indoor season and Penn Relays for the outdoor season.
A number of athletes of that era were recruited after enjoying success in both cross country and track & field. For example, Ira Meyers led his New York high school team to a NY cross country state championship. He went on to achieve All-East honors in cross country while at the College and set the record at 10K on the track.
The cross country program found on-off success at a regional level during this time period. The 1980 team won the College Division of IC4A with Fraser Hudgins winning the race outright. Fraser peaked just at the right time having run 3rd-4th man all season long as a freshman and then cranking out a 1st place for W&M at State and 10th overall.
1981 was a totally different story, with the team fading at the University Division of IC4A and placing #14. It appears that the team peaked too early with the best race of the season being against Georgetown. Despite a 23-33 loss to Georgetown, three W&M runners ran under 31:00 and nine more under 32:30. Penn State would win IC4A that year, Bucknell 2nd, and Georgetown 3rd. As in 1980, Fraser would run 3-4th throughout the early fall and then place first for W&M at State and IC4A. At IC4As, Fraser would place 16th and narrowly missed Jim Shields’ record at Van Cortlandt Park by 1 second. Following IC4As, Fraser would maddingly miss an automatic bid for NCAA Championships by 3 places at NCAA qualifiers.
The 1982 team only lost a handful of lettermen to graduation and returned the nucleus of the team: Andy Whitney, Danny Usher, Fraser Hudgins, John Kellogg, Todd Lindsley, Tom Cuff, and Randy Perkins. The team also fielded a number of freshmen including Ken Halla and Tom Noble. Unknown to the team members at the time, the 1982 squad would be the high-water mark in team results for the next several years.
The 1982 team would field three current or future IC4A cross country champions in Fraser Hudgins (1980), Andy Whitney (1982), and Ken Halla (1984). Middle distance runners on the team included 1500 runners Todd Lindsley 3:58, Tom Cuff 3:52, and Tom Noble 3:47. Steeplechase specialist John Kellogg would post an 8:50 in the 3K steeple and win the event at Colonial Relays 4 times. Whitney had enormous range, being able to clock a 3:52 in the 1500m and a 14:56 in the 5K. Fraser Hudgins would post a 14:29 in the 5K, while Dan Usher would post a 15:02 in the 5K.
In retrospect, it is not surprising that the 1982 team would come together and be undefeated in dual meets and win the College Division of IC4As convincingly, scoring 33 points.
Andy Whitney would win outright setting a course record with a time of 24:27. According to Track Talk, the team title was not in doubt, Whitney would not take the lead until very late in the race and outkick a Delaware runner with 400 meters to go. The differential between Whitney and the number #5 runner that day was less than 1 minute. Fraser finished 4th, Tom Cuff 6th, John Kellogg 9th, Todd Lindsley 13th.
But the nucleus of that team would be lost due to graduations and/or injuries. Whitney would graduate that spring, and Hudgins would be injured his entire senior year. Yet a number of the key contributors to that team would play a role in the next generation of runners.
In Halla's junior year, Coach Chernock would invite Hiram Cuevas to join the team and take a leadership position. The onboarding of Hiram and then Paul Vandegrift, two nationally ranked high school recruits, would herald a renaissance in middle distance running for the program.
Hiram Cuevas grew up in New York City and moved to Long Island with his family prior to high school. The story of Hiram and his family is the archetypal story of first-generation immigrants to the United States. Their family struggled when coming to the United States but his mother and father understood that education was the key to advance in our society. Having found national-level success at both middle distances and cross country in high school, Hiram was heavily recruited by Dartmouth, Georgetown, and other top universities. He had run a 4:12 in the 1600m by his senior year and 15:41 in cross country for a 5K.
He chose William & Mary in part because of the team members that he met on his recruiting trip. More importantly, Coach Chernock did not sugarcoat what he would be able to offer Hiram in terms of resources. Rather than putting him up in a hotel during his visit, he let him sleep on a fold-out chair at Brendan McCarthy’s dorm room. Instead of taking him out for a meal, he got tickets to the caf.
In his freshman year, Hiram competed in the NCAA regional meet along with Ken Halla and Brendan McCarthy. By the summer of his junior year, Hiram was running 100+ miles/week with the hopes of becoming an All-American at cross country, indoor, and outdoor track. His training was in Williamsburg where his training partner was John Kellogg, who was part of the 1982 IC4A-winning cross country team. After a strong summer, he opened the season at Mount Trashmore setting the course record. Yet, he had an awful showing at UNC the following week.
A test showed that he had come down with mono. His junior year cross country campaign was over. The question that remains is “what could his junior year have been?” Having not logged any miles until his first meet for the indoor season, Hiram cranked out a 1:50 800m relay split on the NCAA qualifying 4x800m relay. That split shows the level of talent and the benefit of the summer training. It would not be until his senior year that he would return to cross country nationals, but his most significant races were on the track where he would become an All-American on the 4x800 relay and again in the 1500m. Along the way, Hiram would run a 3:41.88 1500m, breaking a record that had been set by Hal Michael in the 1970s.