1964 cross country team holds reunion
Monday, September 13, 2004
Forty years have done little to diminish the memories carefully stored by former Grant High School track and cross country coach Mark Cotton.
Over the years, before retiring in 1990, Cotton told and retold stories about the 1964 state championship cross country team to each new crop of distance runners.
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That team, indeed, was special. It scored 35 points in the state championship meet, an unthinkably low score that lends weight to it being considered Oregon's best high school cross country team of all time.
Cotton and members of the 1964 team gathered over the weekend, first at the 20th annual Grant alumni meet, and then for lunch at Amalfi's Italian Restaurant on Fremont Street.
And the stories were told all over again:
Of how Hal Jackson used to date Sally Struthers, the blonde who would go on to star in the groundbreaking TV series "All in the Family."
After visiting Struthers at her home, Jackson would ask her to time him on her watch while he ran the two-plus miles home. Once there, he would run in the house and quickly call her to stop the clock and find out his time.
Of how Jackson came into Cotton's class one morning brimming with confidence.
"Coach," he said, "I'm going to get ahead of Ron this week. I ran 10 extra miles this morning before school."
Cotton didn't have the heart to tell him that five minutes earlier Ron Byers had come in to tell him the same thing.
Byers and Jackson were at the head of the pack. But Steve Byers, a junior, was close behind. And Terry Schukart was right there, too. The Byers brothers both went on to run at California, Jackson at Oregon and Schukart at Oregon State.
It came at a time Grant High's hallways teemed with more than 3,000 students.
But running as they did, in a pack on the city streets of Northeast Portland, often provoked double takes from a public that didn't often see joggers. That craze wouldn't start for several more years. The boys bought thermal underwear and each dyed it a different color. It became their running attire, particularly on cold fall afternoons. They would run from Grant to the top of Rocky Butte and back, or out to Marine Drive.
During the season, Grant faced Washington's state champion, Columbia River, and won easily. Columbia River star Roscoe Divine edged Ron Byers by a tenth of a second that day in Vancouver. The next five finishers were all from Grant.
And so when the state meet came, at Bush's Pasture in Salem, the Generals were a clear-cut favorite. They also had won in 1963.
Still, Cotton worried. He held a clipboard and readied a pencil so that he could add up the score when his runners crossed the finish.
Ron Byers was first. Jackson was fourth. Steve Byers (who would win in 1965) was seventh, and Schukart was ninth.
Grant's fifth and final scoring runner, Mike Jones, was 14th. A week earlier, he had placed 16th in the city meet.
Mike Matzdorf (61st) and Jim Schwartz (79th) finished in the front half of the 167-runner field.
"They were just wonderful guys who went on to college and were successful," Cotton said.
Jackson, who followed Cotton's example and coached for 30 years at Milwaukie and Wilson, has been a regular at Grant's alumni meet, where he would run against the current Generals' varsity.
"We had a good group and we were all very good friends," Jackson said of the 1964 team. "We enjoyed being with one another. And Mark had the ability to get us motivated. We liked to do it for him and ourselves as well."
1974 revisited: Another anniversary celebrated Saturday at Grant was for the 1974 girls cross country team, which won the first OSAA-sanctioned state championship.
Much like the 1964 boys, the Generals had a loaded team.
Elaine Pond was the state champion that season as a junior.
Susan Johnson, a freshman, placed 10th. Susan Arfmann, another freshman, was 15th.
Candy Hamilton was 32nd and Annie Rooney was 43rd.
All of them later married and have different last names. Even though the core of the team was young in 1974, it was never able to recapture the right circumstances for another championship.
"Before the meet started I remember the girls had asked me how many points it would take to win state, and I said, '75' " Cotton said. "Well, after it was over, I saw Candy and Annie hanging onto each other crying. Their two scores together added up to 75 so they thought they had cost the team the championship. I think I smiled at them and said, 'Relax ladies, I think you won.' "
What they didn't know was that individual qualifiers were thrown out for team scoring purposes. The Generals scored exactly 75 points, and runner-up Grants Pass scored 100.
Oregon Project: Chad Johnson, who lived and trained in Portland with the Nike Oregon Project through the Olympic trials, has moved back to his native Midwest to join Team USA Minnesota, a training center based in the Twin Cities designed to improve post-collegiate distance running and develop Olympians. Johnson, who placed eighth in the 5,000 meters at the trials in July, ran at the University of Minnesota and grew up in Wisconsin.
Doug Binder: 503-221-8161; firstname.lastname@example.org
Who the hell does he think he is name dropping to make himself look better? I barely remember the guy.