Remembering 1987: Unforgettable Experiences

Margaret Reilly (second girl from left) was the No. 3 scorer for the Paraclete High girls team in the Division III race at the first CIF-State Cross Country Championships in 1987. Three decades later, she would watch her son, Evan Bates of West Ranch, nearly win a State Division I title. (Photo: Courtesy of Margaret Reilly-Bates).

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This is concludes our series of articles looking back at the 1987 CIF-State Cross Country Championships, the first in California.

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Throughout this series, we asked readers to share their experiences at the 1987 State Meet for the purposes of developing this article. Below is the story from a woman who competed in the '87 meet and three decades later watched in amazement as her son almost won a title on the very same Woodward Park course. We hear from another runner who succinctly explains the impact competing at that first State Meet had on his life. And we read the words of a then-young coach, who details that experience as well as the changes over these past 33 years. 

Margaret Reilly-Bates: Mother and Son Experience

I ran in the first CA State XC Meet in 1987. I was a senior at Paraclete High School from the Southern Section. We were never as good as the teams are now, but we were well aware of McFarland and as a girl competitor, we were very aware of Deena Drossin, the phenom from Agoura Hills High School. I can remember running at CIF-SS Prelims and Finals and although we were not in the same division, all we kept hearing over the PA was "Deena Drossin, Deena Drossin!" Watching her go on to win Chicago and an Olympic Medal was quite a thrill.

I met my husband, Greg Bates on the Paraclete XC team. He was a year ahead of me so he never got to be a part of the CA State XC Meet as he was off running XC at Loyola Marymount. 

What makes the CA XC State Meet so special for me was the thrill of getting to watch our son, Evan Bates, compete in his first CA XC Meet in 2017 (30 years after his mom did) as a junior at West Ranch High School. Although they didn't do as well as they wanted, it was still a thrill to be back at Woodward Park on a late November morning.

Fast forward to the next season (2018) and the unimaginable took place.

West Ranch High School placed second and not that far behind Great Oak. Our son, Evan, almost took first overall, but Matt Strangio (Jesuit/SJ) out-kicked him so (Evan) had to settle for second place individually. It was one of the most single exciting things I have ever witnessed. I was in tears as I stood there along the finish line and saw my boy almost winning the CA XC Division I State Meet. I could hardly contain my emotions.

As we were leaving Woodward Park that day, a day that I didn't want to end, I stopped at the top of the hill near the awards tent, grabbed Evan, and said to him, "Look at that finish line, look at this venue, take all of it in one more time. THIS WAS A GREAT DAY! You will remember it forever."

I have an 8x10 photo ... of Evan and Matt coming down the final straight away. It hangs in our staircase. I look at it everyday. I don't ever want to forget what XC has given to our family. It brought me to my husband, it produced us two kids who have both participated in the sport and well ... I just love it!
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Margaret Reilly-Bates goes on to share that Evan is in his second year at Gonzaga "running for the legendary, Patrick Tyson." He red-shirted his freshman year, "had a good indoor season and was looking forward to a spring season that he was not going to redshirt ... but then COVID-19 hit."

She wrote that the weekend COVID was discovered in the U.S., there were "in Seattle watching Evan run the 3000 meters at the Dempsey."

Reilly-Bates said she still runs and "was slated to compete in my 26th and my final marathon at NYC in November. Just like Meb, 26 marathons for 26 miles. ;)  I've run five Bostons, Chicago, and New York. New York is my favorite. I will run it when we are allowed to have big events again. Until then, I run my 40 miles a week and long for a day when running competitions will take place again.

"There will be a California State XC Meet again and there will be NCAA's again. I can hardly wait. We'll see if Evan can pull off in the NCAAs what he did in the 2018 California XC Meet someday. I don't know if it will be as amazing as that one damp morning at Woodward Park on that late 2018 November day.

"Thanks for letting me walk down memory lane."

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Matt Johanson - Inspired By The Experience

I was a runner for the Castro Valley High boys team, which placed seventh in Division II. That's still a great memory for me.

Reaching that meet motivated our whole team to work harder that year. Achieving that goal was so rewarding that it helped me to decide to compete in college, which I hadn't expected to do, and (to) keep running ever since then.

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Marty Simpson - Memories From A Young Coach

Thirty-three years ago, was awhile back in time! I was 39, in my fourth year as head cross- country coach at Clovis West, having success mostly in the girls' program. But that day, it was all about the boys' team. That year, our boys captured the Central Section Championships for the first time in school history, defeating one of the most prominent cross-country programs in the 80's, Madera High School.

If I recall, the organization of the State Meet that year was a joint venture between Madera and Clovis High Schools and since our boys had captured the team Central Section title, the Madera coach told me that our team would be issued bib numbers 1-7 in the State Meet. I thought that was pretty awesome for our boys' team to wear those numbers for the first California State Cross Country Meet in history.

On that day, my scope of cross-country competition grew beyond my little area of the San Joaquin Valley.

I loved to compete as an athlete and always strived to do my best, and I was always trying to observe what other strategies athletes and coaches used to make themselves better. The athletes I coached took on that motivation to do the same, to just compete, always giving your best and letting the cards fall as they may. My whole life as a coach seemed to shift into higher gear that day, because that loss at the State Meet humbled me. How was I going to prepare my athletes, both physically and mentally, to compete on that day in the future, every Saturday after Thanksgiving in the years to come?

Q: What are some of the biggest changes that you have seen in the sport from then until now in our state and perhaps nationally?

First off, that State Meet brought everyone together and you soon learned which programs dominated, but you did not know how and why they were so successful. Again, since I love to compete, I wanted to know what I could do, as a coach, to make my teams compete at the highest level possible. I was always asking the coaches of the top two teams in Central Section history, Coach Dee DeWitt of Madera and Coach Jim White of McFarland, how they trained, how they motivated, was there any special diet, just anything that would give my athletes more of a competitive edge and spirit, and they were always helpful.

Second, fortunately, the LA 1984 Olympics had an excess of money that was put aside to help educate coaches by offering clinics in the Southern California area. Luckily, this was not restricted to coaches in the LA area, so anyone could attend, and they were FREE. You also received an awesome book about all facets of the sport when you attended the Track Clinic or the Cross-Country Clinic. Our coaching staff went every year for years and loved the interaction between the speakers and the clinicians. Our programs evolved with every clinic, our athletes' expectations changed along with our newly learned ideas, and our athletes started competing better and better against those Northern and Southern California teams that were so well coached. If it were not for Tim O'Rourke and Ken Reeves laying the foundation for those clinics for all these years, cross-country and track in California would not be competing at a level so revered by other states.

Third, if I recall correctly, we only had three divisions in 1987 and today we have five. Every year continues to bring performances by both girls and boys that seem to surprise us old coaches. It warms my heart that this State Meet competition can bring out record course times that athletes, as individuals and teams, strive to achieve and, hopefully, to beat.

Fourth, and in some ways not the most beneficial, at least in my eyes, is due to our new found love of the internet, now we seem to have a lot of hype, positive and negative, that is generated by these sites.

Lastly, the girls have stepped it up in all divisions, while the boys have exploded in Divisions 1 and 2 from 2004 to 2019. I didn't think that I would ever be able to make this statement, until I checked the results of the 2004 Division V boys race and compared our top five girls from Buchanan all-time list at Woodward Park. But, had those girls toed the line as a team, they would have placed second in that race. In fact, our top two girls would have been second and third on that winning boys' team. Those young ladies, who came to realize the importance of training, competition and believing in themselves and their coaches, attained race times that I did not think, 33 years ago, would have been possible for young ladies.


MileSplitCA Northern California Editor Albert Caruana contributed to this report.

Inserted photos by Jeffrey Parenti and Pat Rhames.