Things began to really heat up with the arrival of Pat Tyson as Mead’s distance running coach. He provided the leadership that led to Mead’s first of 9 straight titles in 1988.
Tyson’s Shorecrest High School team had won consecutive 3-A cross-country titles in 1984 and 1985 before he moved on to Mead.
Tyson may be best known nationally as a University of Oregon runner under coach Bill Bowerman and the one-time roommate of Steve “Pre” Prefontaine.
Pre was not only Oregon’s superstar champion but also America’s greatest middle distance runner ever, and America’s greatest running legend.
At the time of his tragic death in an automobile accident at the young age of 24, Pre held 14 American track and field records from 2,000 meters to 10,000 meters. For 5 years no American runner could beat Pre at any distance over a mile.
Bowerman, one of the greatest middle distance coaches, had phenomenal success and Oregon became a national powerhouse.
What Tyson learned living and running with Steve Prefontaine and from coach Bowerman was brought to Mead and superbly implemented.
Mead runners were asked to do nothing more or less than buy into being part of Tyson’s “extended family” system. He wanted a bunch of guys who loved to run, were willing to train consistently (year around), and who liked to hang out together.
The Mead Panthers became a team of young men who were inseparable and all but unbeatable year after year. Rival coaches from other leagues and smaller schools were envious of Mead’s 80-plus member cross-country teams and middle distance track teams.
While most schools were lucky to have a half dozen runners who could break 5 minutes in the mile, Mead apparently had 30+ kids who could do it in every training session. Being a starting runner for Mead was a big deal, and an even bigger deal in an important meet.
In cross-country only 7 runners represent the team in a meet and only their first 5 runners figure in the scoring, but all 80-plus team members might run in the meet.
One great thing about cross-country is that it is an inclusion sport, no one needs to sit on the bench while the starters on a team play.
Cross-country, like track and field, swimming and wrestling are also individual as well as team sports. Your team might not qualify for the state meet, but you could qualify as an individual based upon your finish in district or regional meets.
Unlike most sports contests, in cross-country the low score wins. A team whose runners finish 1-2-3-4-5 would score a perfect 15 points. Its opponent could, at best, finish 6-7-8-9-10 with 40 points.
Should a team finish 1-2-3-4-5-6-7 the winning score would still be 15, but its opponent could do no better than an 8-9-10-11-12 finish with 50 points. While the 6th and 7th place runners do not figure in their team’s score, they can determine which team wins by finishing ahead of the other team’s first 5 runners.
Mead runners became champions because when the stakes were the highest, they performed their best. Runners outside the GSL who lined up against Mead had to feel that they were going to an excruciating trial.
(Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a 4-Part Series on Mead High School’s running success.)
Copyright © 2007 Ed Bagley