Photo above: The start of the 1973 Greenville County Championships the first of its kind. The athletes lined up by alternating school - Berea's Wayne Coley is pictured on the far right. He won the meet. (Wayne was third overall at the State Meet. He then went on to Furman where he was a multiple All-American and named Furman's first Athlete of the Year. In 1982, he coached Hillcrest to their only State Championship). A Hillcrest athlete is next followed by Marc Embler of Berea, another Hillcrest athlete and I am fifth on the line in the photo. The race was around 2.25 miles and Hillcrest won the county meet, but placed behind Berea at the state championship - Berea was ninth and Hillcrest was 12th. Much to my dismay now, Eastside had a team but chose not to attend. I have no record of my place or time at the Greenville County Championships.
Nostalgia! It can sure waste a lot of your time! You get this idea in your head about how something relates to something in the past and sometimes it just won't let you go.
This happened to me a few weeks ago when I started planning for my part of the Greenville County XC Championships. I have long been involved with this meet; actually, meet that has ever been (at least of the ones I can find).
It all started when I was thinking about the meet moving to Wednesday this year because of the crazy school district calendar. I wondered if the meet had ever been held on a Wednesday before and if the 18th would be the earliest date of the meet. Here goes the nostalgia! Time to dig into my library (and some more recent results on SCRunners) of meet results from the past 44 years and see what I could find. One thing always leads to another and then another; I spent days recording team and individual results from our Greenville County Championships and how they compare to the S.C. State Championships. Some pretty interesting stuff!
Before I start intriguing you with the information that I found, remember a few things:
1. I am very partial to the Greenville County Championships because of my long involvement as either the sole Meet Director or sharing the duties with Greenville, Hillcrest, Riverside and now Woodmont.
2. That Greenville County has a lot of schools - now 14 public schools with a cross country program and at least six charter or private schools. But, that is less than 10% of all of the schools in South Carolina.
3. There are a lot of chances to win a State Championship, now with five boys and four girls divisions but it wasn't always that way.
4. I am missing the results from the girls' county meet for 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1998. The missing results will change the data percentages.
5. You can make anything you want out of statistics.
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Back in the early 1980's an article appeared in The Greenville News praising the great running program at Spartanburg High. A new coach from Illinois, Jim Kilbreth, was breathing new life into an already decent program and racing his team to the top. A Greenville Track Club (GTC) friend of mine, whose son ran at Wade Hampton and knew I was the coach at Eastside printed The Greenville News article in the GTC newsletter and wrote on the bottom of it "Cross Country is where it ain't in Greenville."
This upset me because there had been some good teams in Greenville. But it made me work harder and the passion began to spread other schools. I then met Delmer Howell in the summer of 1982. As I was introduced, he said he was the new cross country coach at Mauldin and that he was going to win the State Championship that year (he did!). And that arrogance really got me moving. He went on to produce arguably the best team in the history of the state in 1985. Hard work by other coaches forces others to either work hard or be complacent with a mediocre program. Many of the schools in Greenville County had all of the ingredients to become special. Along come more great coaches such as Willie Wooden (Riverside), Rick Zeller (Wade Hampton), Rodney Adamee (Christ Church), Eric Cummings (Riverside) and George Carr (St. Joseph's) and Marie Kernell (St. Joseph's).
So now I will make my statement of controversy and some facts to back it up. The cross country teams from Greenville County are the best group of teams from any other area in the state (and have been since 1982). I will contend that no other county or adjacent groups of counties that host a championship meet (like Tri-County Championships in the Upstate) come close to the caliber of teams that Greenville County offers. In other words, the Greenville County Championships are the most difficult (and prestigious) of all local championship races in the state.
Did you know? The Greenville County Championships first meet was held in November of 1973 (unofficial state meet was Dec. 13 and won by Edmunds High School (not a school today, there was also a junior varsity race). I know. I ran in it.
There were only two teams that comprised of 11 runners combined (see picture) at the Greenville County Championship in 1973. I know who was there (Hillcrest and Berea), and who won. Hillcrest won the team title and my teammate Wayne Coley of Berea won the individual title. The course was around 2.25 miles and was held at Furman beginning on what is now the Furman soccer field. I attended Furman the next four years and do not have the results from those meets. I have searched old newspapers and have found no results so I don't know if there even were meets then. We restarted the Greenville County Championships in 1978 and they have continued still today. The meets started with just a handful of teams. The first few girls' meets only had one scoring team. The competition was decent but not quite on the state level for that time period.
That all changed (competition) in 1980 at the state level. Berea placed second in the Class AAA/AA/A State Championships even though they only placed fourth in the Greenville County Championships. Hillcrest won the Greenville County Championships in 1981 and then placed second in the Class AAAA State Championships. The next year Hillcrest won the State Championships, but only placed second in the Greenville County Championships because Greenville High School won the Greenville County Championships and the Class A and AA state championships with the lowest score in boys' state meet history with 18 points. Hilton Head tied that record in 2015. The girls state record is a perfect 15 (T.L. Hanna (1993). Giving credit to Wade Hampton - they were the first Greenville County school to place in the top three. That was in 1975.
A school from Greenville County has won a boys or girls state title every year since 1981 except 1999 and 2009. The meet has normally been two weeks before the State Championships.
Let's look at some more figures. In the girls' state meet
1. The first girls' state championship was held in 1976 with all classifications running together.
2. The Class AAA classification ran their own meet in 1989, Class AA in 1995, and the Class A in 2010. Class A lost the meet in 2016 when the Class AAAAA was started.
3. The number of chances to win a state title is then dependent on the number of races. In other words there was only one state champ until 1989, two until 1995, three until 2010 and now there are four chances to win the title.
4. 98 state champions have been awarded in all classifications together since the meet started.
5. Of 29 schools that have won the state meet, six are from Greenville County.
6. Greenville County Schools have won state titles 34 times. In the Greenville County Championships these schools placed in the county meet and won a state title: - First (17 schools), second (eight schools), third (two schools), fourth (four schools), and sixth (one school).
Conclusion: Overall this means that Greenville County schools have won 34.6-percent of all state championships and the team Greenville County Champion has gone on to win 17.3-percent of state titles. Teams still won their respective state team title without winning county.
- Twenty-three schools in Greenville have been second in the State Championships (23.4-percent of all runner-ups).
- There have been 37 times when the Greenville County team champion or runner-up went on the place first or second in the State Championships. (37.7-percent).
- There have only been 11 years (1978, 1979, 1980, 1981 1982, 1984, 1987, 1990, 1991, 2009, 2010) when a Greenville County school was shut out from the state team podium. This is out of 39 years of State Championships, or 71.7-percent.
Now for the boys
- The first boys' State Championship was in 1969. Even though the Greenville County Championships did not start until 1973, I will include all of the years. Class AAA started in 1980 (two chances), Class AA in 1980-1982 and then again in 1992 (three chances), the Class A in 2006 (four chances), and the Class AAAAA in 2016 (Five chances).
- Of 49 schools that have won the state meet, 11 are from Greenville.
- There have been 125 teams crowned as State Champion in these 48 years of the sport.
- Greenville County schools have won 39 of the 125 team titles (31.2-percent). Twenty-three of the 125 was also the Greenville County Champions (18.4-percent).
- Thirty Greenville County schools have placed second in the State Championships (24-percent).
- There have been 44 times when the Greenville County Team Champion or runner-up went on to place first or second in the State Championships (35.2-percent).
- Greenville County was shut out from the awards stand 12 years (1969-1974, 1976-1980, and 1986). Therefore, a Greenville County team champion or runner-up stood on the podium at State in 75-percent of all 48 State Championship years.
It is tough to run in the Greenville County Championships. Except for 2009, a Greenville County school has won at least one state championship every year since 1982 (in 2009 the County had two runner-ups). If you rank the schools by the number of State Championships they have won, Mauldin (11), Riverside (9), and St. Joseph's (7) rank as the top three in the girls' championships. In the boys, three of the top five are Greenville County schools - Riverside (13), Hilton Head (8), Spartanburg (7) and Mauldin and Wade Hampton are tied for fourth (6).
Most of the coaches here will agree that All-State (top 15) is easier to get than (Greenville) All-County (top 20). I remember Rick Zeller telling his kids once that the Greenville County Championships is in the middle of the trifecta - Region, County, State. I contend that the middle part (Greenville County) is the hardest title to get. Winning the Greenville County Championships should be a huge sense of pride for the program that finds itself good enough or lucky enough to be named Greenville County Champion.
Are there other areas in our state that can lay claim to the same statistics? I think not! Spartanburg County may offer a similar scenario with all of the State Championships won by Spartanburg, Dorman, Broome, Byrnes, and Landrum. But, not close enough. The counties that make up the Columbia area may combine to have a great multi-county meet with schools like Spring Valley, Richland Northeast, Lexington, Irmo, and Chapin just to name a few but again not close enough. In the Lower State, anyone in the same county as Hilton Head would have their hands full!
So to my friend at the Greenville Track Club - Cross country is where it's at in Greenville. To all of the rest of you not fortunate enough to call Greenville home - if you want to your win column, stay away from our schools!
To answer the questions I first sought - this is the only day the County has been on any day other than Saturday and the earliest date was October 16 in 1982.
I wonder what my next nostalgia binge will be. Since I "retired," I've got too much time on my hands!
Editor's note: Former Eastside Cross Country and Track Coach Ed Boehmke has agreed to write a monthly column for SCRunners. Ed was the Head Boys and Girls Track and Cross Country Coach for 38 years. His teams won three state championships, seven state runner-ups, and numerous region championships. He has been the Meet Director for the Coaches Classic, S.C. State Championships, and the Chick-fila Games, as well the Greenville County Cross Country Championships and the Greenville County Track and Field Championships, which he started the girls' division in 1976. He has also hosted state and regional Junior Olympics in both track and cross-country. He is very active in the S.C. State and Cross Country Coaches Association having held every elected and appointed position in the organization, including serving as President from 1988 - 1992. He has been selected to five different Hall-of-Fames - Berea High School Athletic, USATF/S.C., Greenville Track Club, S.C. Track and Cross Country Coaches Association, and the S.C. Athletic Coaches Association. He retired from teaching in June of 2016 but still continues to be a meet director at Eastside and is still responsible for directing the 3A and 4A State Qualifying Meet in Cross Country.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author. It is the hope that these thoughts, though maybe controversial, will open dialog between coaches, athletes, meet directors, and the S.C. High School League to find insightful and meaningful ideas to promote improvements in the sports of track and cross country.