Dunkirk Observer

"Oh, Really?" by Reilly

FREDONIA HIGH and cross country excellence have gone hand-in-hand since Fred Larson took over as coach in 1966.His teams have won 17 straight county championships, although he’d be the first to tell you the 18th straight title isn’t likely to be won this season.

Just last Friday the Hillbillies lost their first dual meet since 1973. They won 250 dual meets between losses. Larson’s career coaching record is something like 240-2.

He has kept up the winning game despite a coaching revolution which has changed the training regimen of Chautauqua County distance runners. He helped bring the change about.

Cross country was a secondary sport when Larson took over the Fredonia team. Many teachers coached cross country at their schools only because nobody else wanted the job.

As a miler in high school, Larson was the Pennsylvania state champion and earned a track scholarship to Penn State.

“I was fortunate,” Larson said, ‘to be coaching in my realm.”

Other coaches were driving their runners out onto a country road and making them run back to school. It was the same day after day; the runners rarely altered their pace. What was to have been running amounted to jogging.

Larson introduced a break in the routine known as intervals, which are quarter-mile and half mile ‘sprints’ against the clock.

“Intervals” said Larson, “gives the runners stamina to go at a faster rate of speed for three miles. It takes them to another level of conditioning and lets them utilize their oxygen better for better endurance.”

It wasn’t long before other county coaches began using intervals, too, and their teams began beating open company at sectional and invitational meets.

The Hillbillies emerged as the cream of the crop.

GIVEN THE NATURE of the sport, 250 straight wins is incredible.

“All it takes is to have someone sick with the flu, or a leg injury at the wrong time,” Larson said. “The streak was a lot of luck.”

Larson recalls bad luck at work when Fredonia lost to Southwestern in 1971. Fredonia had one runner out and lost by three points.

“It was a fluke,” Larson said.” We came back to beat Southwestern three times that year.”

Good luck was at work Tuesday as Fredonia avenged its lost to Forestville. The Hornets had one key runner under the weather with stomach flu and he didn’t run as well as he did last Friday.

If luck is truly the product of design, then conditioning and mental toughness are the blueprints.

“First we work on the physical aspect,” Larson said. “The rest is mental. Cross country enables and athlete to find out a lot of things about himself.”

“To maintain dominance in the sport, Larson has been able to find many athletes willing to work hard for their own benefit.

“They have to understand what they need, and be willing to accept the work,” Larson said. “I’ve had good rapport with student athletes over the years. Its why any coach has success.”

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