CCS Cross Country: A Brief History by Howard Willman
(edited by Hank Lawson)
Though there had been occasional cross country races before his time,
Forrest Jamieson is considered the father of high school cross country
in the Bay Area. It was not until Jamieson's arrival at Palo Alto High
in the early '50s that the sport began its incredible growth, directly
attributed to Jamieson's efforts to popularize it.
And that was not difficult to do. Cross country was, and still is,
an easy sport to comprehend. As a team sport, it stressed an aspect of
running that was not as important on the track. Because it is a team sport,
its numbers of participants grew easily and fast. (In fact, today some
high school cross country teams out-number their track squads.) Jamieson,
still considered one of the area's best-ever coaches, was most instrumental
in molding the sport into its current shape, a shape which has for over
30 years been a hotbed of national talent.
In 1954, the North Coast Section (NCS) officially sanctioned the sport,
and on November 20, the first NCS Championships were held. A 1.96-mile
course at the Stanford Golf Course was laid out, and it was to become the
site of the NCS for 10 consecutive years. Also held on that course were
"center meets," an invitation by Jamieson to help popularize
the sport here. The meets were almost immediately successful, attracting
as many as 1000 participants each week.
In 1957, Track & Field News editor Bert Nelson started "postal"
competitions. The idea was to have high school teams running 2 miles on
a track per runner for 5 members, adding the times together for a team
total. Coaches mailed the results to T&FN to serve as a comparison
for schools across the nation. The event grew so popular that the 2-mile
eventually became nearly standard throughout the country in state track
meets (California first held a 2-mile in its 1965 state meet).
In 1962, Hillsdale coach Plato Yanicks (since moved to Menlo Atherton)
started, with the helpful support of the Northern California Track &
Field Association, all-NorCal teams. A few years later, Citizen Savings
joined in the sponsorship. Yanicks led selection committees until 1981,
when the top runners began to be selected on the basis of their finish
at the NorCal meet.
The sport is still running strong today, as are center meets, postal
meets (which were discontinued in the late '80s, ed.), and section championships.
In 1965, the Central Coast Section (CCS) was formed for cross country,
as the CCS was breaking away sport-by-sport from the NCS. Since that breakaway,
the sport has been gaining momentum, though maybe reaching a plateau by
1980 (latest census shows that running, in general, had its biggest year
to date in 1997, ed.).
Cross country's popularity became so great that in 1970 separate divisions
were instituted. In 1970 and '71, schools were polarized into "large"
and "small" divisions based upon school population. In '72, a
"medium" division was also added. But it became very apparent
after '72 that the idea of the CCS champion was being lost, so in 1973
the CCS coaches went back to the standard setup, only increasing the qualifiers
about 50% from pre- 1970 days. In 1977, the CCS incorporated its first
girls championships. In 1978, the first Northern California Championships,
an idea which had been brewing in the minds of many coaches for about 20
years, were finally a reality, in large part to the efforts of Menlo-Atherton
coach Plato Yanicks. In 1979, Kinney Shoes began sponsoring a National
cross country championship for individuals by holding 5 (now 4) regional
meets: though runners deterred no prep stars. A California state meet had
been rumored for several years, but the suggestion seemed to be on a back
burner until more administrators warmed up to the idea. (An unofficial
state meet was held in Merced back in 1957, but the NorCal meets since
1978 had been the next closest thing to an official state meet. Some coaches
believed the Kinney Western Regional meet was the perfect setting for an
unofficial state meet.)
(In 1988, the reality of a true state meet came to fruition. It was
held at Fresno's Woodard Park, where individuals and teams came together
to compete in one of 5 divisions [increased from the 3 divisions of the
early '70s] ed.)
As mentioned earlier, the Stanford Golf Course served as the area's
standard course in the '50s and early '60s. It, too, became popular, but
not with those who played golf on it, and, defiantly, the runners were
eventually not allowed to use the course after 1963. (in recent years,
however, the high school runners have been allowed one meet per year at
Stanford Golf course.) The section meet's home wandered several places,
one of them being a 2.25 mile course near Crystal Springs Reservoir in
Belmont. In 1971, because of construction of Interstate 280, the course
was re-done and laid down to its present 2.95 miles. College of San Mateo
coach Bob Rush is considered by San Mateo city and San Francisco Water
District officials to be the "parent" of the course.
Crystal Spring's odd distance (2.95) is attributed to the fact that when the
course first opened, a large trench was dug for a pipeline right where they
wanted the start to be. Hence, they had to move the start forward a bit
making the course shorter than the designers had originally intended.
1983 will mark the 7th year in a row that the CCS meet will be contested
there (and every year through 2001, also, ed.). The first 3 NorCal meets
and the first Kinney Western Regional meet were held there, as were the
1974 AAU Men's and 1975 Women's National Championships and various other
championship meets. Center meets, the Crystal Springs Invitational (now
called the Serra Invitational, ed.) and several league and region meets are
also contested there.
Unlike the Stanford Golf Course, Crystal Springs is solely a cross
country course. And like any course, Crystal Springs has received both
positive and negative comments. Most of its negative criticisms seem to
be a direct correlation to the course's tough nature (long, somewhat hard
dirt surface, steep downhill at start). (As well as lack of parking, ed.)
And its positive praise is what can't be beat for meets of large and important
stature: it can handle large numbers of runners, and spectators can see
over 75% of the race. Like many courses, it is not invincible to weather
tantrums (rain and wind), though Crystal Springs' paths can handle more
water than any other dirt or grass course in the CCS.
Throughout the past decades, it has offered the cross country community
an extreme sense of familiarity. Yet no matter how often one has run it
in the past, Crystal Springs is always a challenge to the runner who treads
its paths again.