The 1977 and 1978 state championship cross country teams of Elyria Catholic honored former head coaches Tom Mahl and Dick Elsasser by dedicating a new team award in their honor.
Mahl and Elsasser, now both 64, are credited for EC’s dominance in the 1970s.
The Panthers’ performance was among the most dominating by any cross country or track program in the history of Lorain County and, possibly, in the history of the state cross country tournament.
The 1977 and ’78 sweep capped a run of four state titles in six years beginning in 1973. The 1973 and ’74 teams also won Class AA state titles. The Panthers were second in 1972, ’79 and ’83.
“We wanted to recognize and honor Tom and Dick for creating not only that winning tradition but also the tradition of camaraderie that has tied us together over the years,” said Bob Sabo, EC class of 1978. “To do so, we felt it best to establish an ongoing award to the cross country runner who best continued that tradition.”
The new award is called, “The Tom Mahl/Dick Elsasser Tradition Award.” It is expected to be presented annually at the team’s fall sports award banquet by Mahl and Elsasser.
“The award recognizes the runner on the current EC team who best continues the tradition of state championship dedication and character that is at the heart of Elyria Catholic cross country,” said Sabo.
Both Mahl and Elsasser were feted with honorary plaques at a reunion banquet on July 28 at Spring Valley Country Club.
“How Tom and I first developed the program initially was by the seat of our pants,” said Elsasser. “I always considered us to be kind of like chefs. We took the right ingredients, the right kids and training methods and developed the program. Those kids really believed in Tom and I because we were just honest with them.”
Elsasser, who coached EC along with Mahl from 1971-75, returned to coach the Panthers in 1978 until 1985. Mahl left after 1976 to pursue teaching at Lorain County Community College. Interim coach Steve Currier led the 1977 team, utilizing the coaching formula left by Mahl and Elsasser.
The honor caught both Mahl and Elsasser by surprise.
“They kept us completely in the dark (about the award),” said Mahl, a photographer at The Chronicle-Telegram. “My brother Larry, a member of the 1977 team, was in town for two months over the summer, and kept the secret under wraps. I never caught any inkling of it at all.”
The foundation installed by Mahl and Elsasser was the key to the program’s success.
“Our approach was that the important thing for the runners is that you’re having fun. If you’re doing it, it had to be fun,” said Elsasser. “I know I liked running because I had fun. To me, it always was. It was more fun when you won, obviously. That was the theme that was there. I used to tell the kids before races, ‘Go out, run and have fun.’ Enjoy what you’re doing doing this.”
Elsasser left EC in 1985 and coached four years at Baldwin-Wallace from 1986-90 before going to Amherst in 1990. He retired from teaching and coaching in 2005.
“I always asked kids who were budding distance runners, ‘Do you like to run? Do you see it as being fun?’” said Elsasser, a member of the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame. “If the kid can answer yes, that was the kind of kid we were looking for. They’re going to enjoy it more.”
Elsasser was a two-time Class A state mile champ, graduating from Marion Catholic in 1961. He was a four-year letterman at Bowling Green State University. Mahl, a 1961 EC graduate, was a state qualifier in the 100-yard dash and ran for Kent State University.
“I’m glad that those guys (the ’77-78 teams) are looking at tradition,” Elsasser said. “Tradition is important in anything we do. We want to keep the program successful out of pride.”
The Bay boys team finished first and the girls were second at the Chris Green Invitational at Sandusky Perkins on Saturday.
Freshman Mike Brajdic led the Rockets with a second-place time of 16:42 to finish behind Perkins senior Cory Leslie, who won the event in 16:19. Brian Zeuch (fifth, 17:21), Jordan Hawkins (15th, 18:08), Matt Notarberardino (16th, 18:13) and Marty Sammon (18th, 18:19) rounded out the top five for Bay, which scored 56 points to lead Fremont Ross (96), Perkins (97) and Oregon Clay (99).
“Brian’s race was the key for us this week,” said Bay coach Steve Babson. “It was well under his previous best time.”
Senior Hannah Farver was second (19:45) behind Seneca East’s Brittany Stockmaster (19:26) in the girls competition. Junior Stephanie Black (fifth, 20:26), Molly Gorie (14th, 21:37), Lisa Griebel (16th, 21:39) and Megan O’Brien (20th, 22:01) rounded out the top five for Bay, which 57 tallied points — second only to Seneca East (28). Sandusky (79), Oregon Clay (113) and Perkins (118) rounded out the field.
“A solid race for us over a course that seemed to run slightly slower than last year,” said Bay girls coach Joe Knap. “Stephanie had a PR (personal record) and probably the best race on our team. I think that is the sixth or seventh consecutive runner-up finish for us.”
Bully for Bullard
Junior Dan Bullard ran a career-best time of 16:41 to help the North Olmsted boys team finish fourth at the Mentor Invitational on Saturday.
Bullard finished fourth, eclipsing his previous best time of 16:43 at last year’s Tiffin Distance Carnival. Perry’s Dan Jakitsch won the race in 16:23.
Senior Alex Kearney was the Eagles’ No. 2 runner, finishing 14th (17:40). Justin Wolfe (48th, 18:52), Josh Allen (55th, 19:05) and Ryan Kelly (60th, 19:17) rounded out the top five.
North Olmsted finished with 151 points, behind Mentor (54), Solon (74) and Perry (95) in the 15-team field.
Seniors Kara Gut (22nd, 21:19) and Nicole Georgalis (25th, 21:19) led the North Olmsted girls to a fifth-place team finish.
Alex Goots (28th, 21:27), Andria Bazilevich (33rd, 21:52) and Jordan Sowecke (37th, 22:01) rounded out the top five.
Solon (43) won the girls division. St. Joseph Academy (61), Gilmour Academy (84), Perry (138) and North Olmsted (145) rounded out the top five in the 17-team field.
Junior Kelly Gallagher of Westlake (eighth, 20:37) was the No. 3 runner for St. Joseph Academy. She was a 2006 Division I state qualifier for the Jaguars.
Contact Paul Heyse at 329-7137 or email@example.com.