|April 1982 vs June 2016|
Tom Hill, John Hashman, Rob Taylor, Steve Taylor
1982 WV State A-AA 4x800M Relay Champions
and current meet record holders 34 years later.
Enter Tom Hill
Stickman and Hillba were all I knew him as for a few days. He tipped the scale just north of 100 pounds soaking wet and if he stood sideways behind a telephone pole he could literally disappear. He was one thin dude who would become one of our closest friends and someone I would trust with anything...and still do to this day. True friends are hard to come by and in my opinion you have only a few in your lifetime. Growing up and to this day Tom Hill is one of those friends. He's genuine, honest and loyal--you can't ask for anything more in a friend.
Why were we without Tom you may ask? Well, in August of that year he and his family went to the Holy Land on a Christian Pilgrimage. As I mentioned before, Coach Rea held everyone to the same standard and he expected everyone who wanted to be part of the team to be at every practice...no exceptions. My cousin Rob knew Tom could run and that he would help our team. He even mentioned to Coach that Tom was good. Tom and his family returned a week into cross country practice...He came to practice to join the team. Coach said he would need to wait until spring track season to run since he missed the first week of practice. Looking back now the state AAA XC title likely slipped through our grasp at that moment.
FIGURE 8's IN THE COUNTY PARK
One of our trade mark's within the county was the path we wore through the Pleasants County Park each fall. You see our county park was about a mile walk from our high school and we walked it everyday with coach before and after practice. As we walked over to start practice nearly every day we would pass former SMHS 400M Record Holder, Bill "Billy" Williamson, who was our towns U.S. Mail carrier...And every day my cousin Rob would say to him, "What kinda milk man are you." This would always make Bill smile and the rest of us laugh. As the years rolled by it became funnier and funnier to Bill but mostly us. The more times it was said, the funnier it got...which might be a guy thing. Bill came back to running becoming a successful local road racer winning his age group in many of the local competitions.
We arrived at the park each day ready to work. It sits at the eastern edge of town, alongside of route 16, which is one of the two busiest roads within our county. The park sits on the side of the roughly mile long-Pike Hill (in later years my brothers, Mike and Cliff and I would actually race loaded Lambert and Westbrook dump trucks up this hill.). It's a hill many outside our state would describe as a mountain, with the county park's swimming pool and ball fields on the flatter section at the bottom.
The upper section of the park where we ran, sits on the side of a large hill, includes a dirt road around the perimeter and an intersecting road through the middle along with a power line with large wooden poles, we called the "Right-A-Way". The park manager at the time was Jim McFarland, who would later serve as the county sheriff for many years, and he lived in a house within the park along route 16. There was a steep hill next to his home which we aptly named, "McFarland's Hill" and it is still called that today. It was so steep we would ~almost~ rather run up it than we would run down it.
The Park, as we call it to this day, was coach Rea's favorite place for cross country practice. Occasionally, we would run on the track and The Island. The Island referred to Middle Island which was owned by the Ingram Family and sits at the confluence of Middle Island Creek and the Ohio River. The Ingram's were prominent within our county and were a founding family within the area. They would later agree for Middle Island to become the Middle Island Wildlife Refuge and today is my favorite location to run when I return home. During our high school years it was planted from one end of its 2.2 mile length to the other in corn and potatoes...However, it was The Park where our blisters became callouses and we were forged into iron in the fires of the WV hills.
By midseason the go to workout for coach was "5 times the Figure 8 within the park on handicap". We would start in reverse order from the previous time we ran the workout, with the fastest person starting last at a given time after the slowest runner from the previous practice. Theoretically, everyone would finish at the exact same time IF we ran exactly the same time as before. Of course that never happened and we would often find our very good teammate, Lee Haddox, laying low on a day in order to gain an advantage/head start the next time we ran that workout.
The Figure 8 laps in the park were 1.1 miles in length and tough...They made us strong, versatile and helped us shine at the championships which tended to be on hilly courses. The Figure 8 we refer to would change directions on varying days and included McFarlands Hill, the Right-A-Way and Bald Knob within the park. Some days we went up McFarland's Hill and other days we would go down...but every day we did Figure 8's.
Bald Knob is the highest point in our town and provides a good vantage point from within the park. Since it looked similar, I always thought it was an Indian burial place like the one the Native American Adena People (Mound Builders) built between ~1000 B.C. and 700 A.D. in nearby Harmony Acres. For us, it had another name given by our Dad's/Uncles...affectionately named "Skinner Back" Knob. We always got a chuckle out of this and the stories surrounding that location which dated back several decades. We still laugh when someone refers to it by that name which is the only name we use, unless ladies are present...then it's Bald Knob.
|View from just below Bald Knob overlooking our hometown of St. Marys, WV|
We crossed the Right-A-Way (the center of the Figure 8) twice each lap and could gauge how much distance we were gaining on our teammates with each pass. We particularly enjoyed passing the few girls on the team and often talked about how much better the view was with them on the loop...It served as motivation on more than one occasion.
About 2/3's of the way across the Right-A-Way was a large ditch that required a serious leap in order to cross it. We were so small, Coach Rea became concerned he might lose one of us in the ditch which was about 6 feet wide and 4 feet deep. So, he found an old Pleasants County Park sign and placed it over the ditch. We thought it would be moved by the park's maintenance folks, but it stayed in place for a couple years before it was replaced. It was a simple decision by coach, but I'm sure he saved several injuries by placing it.
As we made lap...after lap...after lap of the park and the season progressed we would slowly start to wear a path through the grass section of the course through the power line Right-A-Way. In August and September the smell of fresh cut grass filled the air announcing it was cross country season. As we got into October and the leaves began to change you would catch a crisp smell of the arrival of fall as our worn path became even more pronounced as it was worn to dirt. It was a badge of success for us...It was a symbol of our hard work and a symbol of sweat and toil. We had worn the grass out and turned what had started as a grass trail into dirt.
More than once we headed to the Farm Fresh, our local convenience store, to grab a post workout beverage and then jump into the car and drive up the Pike Hill on Route 16 just to look at the worn path as we drove by. It was a symbol that we took pride in and to this day it is a symbol of what it takes to be champions.
About the same time, a small group of strangers at a table next to us got up and left the restaurant. They left their trays on the table which included a couple of half-eaten hash browns. Without saying anything, my brother Cliff reached over and grabbed the half eaten hash browns and sat them on his tray. We said nothing and just looked at him with a look of, "what the heck?"
By this point those hash browns were half digested as Tom realized something must be up. That's when he said with a chuckle, "what's up?" Cliff responded with the Benny Hill Salute as we busted out laughing at what we had just witnessed. It all happened so fast we simply had no time to respond. When Stickman found out what Cliff had done he laughed louder, but from that point forward when someone offered him food...he asked a couple questions before devouring it.
|The Benny Hill Salute was a signature for us since 1979.|
As I looked around my attention and vision started looking upward. At this county fair they had a hot air balloon that you could pay $5 for a ride and it was located directly adjacent to the race course finish line. Heck, $5 to us might as well been $500 back then. The number of people standing in line was at least 150 people in length waiting for a hot air balloon ride. Tom and Don wanted a ride in that balloon but they didn't want to spend $5 and they didn't want to wait two hours. Tom was not bashful and would ask anyone anything...They walked to the front of the line and told the owner of the hot air balloon that Tom had just won the race and just like that, they got their free ride. It was hilarious. As Cliff and I looked up at them from the finish line we got a Benny Hill Salute from both Stickman and Don.
Sometime later as our conversation jumped from place to place, Jenny started talking about her dad and how he was the county Sheriff. I said, "Jenny, what's your last name?" She smiled and said, "Smalley". Thinking back to a few hours earlier and speaking with the Sheriff, I said, "Is your dad Rex Smalley?" "Yes he is", she replied. About then is when Stickman and I looked at each other and decided it was time to head south to St. Marys. We found Hoff and got out of dodge in short order! We've laughed about the odds of that and how it was a story few would believe.
Even Coach Rea loved it and would come to the back of the bus and ask us to turn it up. Imagine the portable 8 tract player being replaced with the cutting edge, cassett tape player, a song 14:45 in length and several of us with the lyrics memorized, trading off verses. Fun times.
|Our choice for listening the the Sugar Hill Gang from 1979-1982|
What a memory! BTW those boys never came around afterwards."