Larson deserves Hall of Fame honor

The Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame will induct legendary Fredonia High School cross-country and track Coach Fred Larson into its ranks later this month.

Coach Larson richly deserves the honor.

More than 50 years after I hung up my running shoes at FHS, Larson remains one of my most memorable teachers and mentors. I had many outstanding teachers during my 12 years in Fredonia schools. Elementary teacher Helen Chazanof and English teacher Margaret Ruckman need special mention.

Coach Larson, however, remains a key figure when my thoughts turn to growing up in Fredonia.

I am an “old boy” member of one of Larson’s earliest teams, running cross-country in the fall and the half-mile in track and field in the spring.

Team members of that era had a special kind of joy during practice and meets held in sunshine, rain, snow and sleet. Larson had confidence and trust in us, and we gave him our loyalty and personal best.

Fredonia teams under Larson became a respected presence in local and sectional competition as he patiently built us into winners.

Larson welcomed any boy who was willing to work hard and show up each day with a positive attitude, win or lose. Hardly a star athlete, I often surprised myself with what I could do in a race. He paid attention to me, as he did to everyone, as his boys grew nearer to graduation and assuming the responsibilities of adult life.

As a member of the Class of 1970, I learned the value of determination, clear thinking, and hard work on and off the field from Coach Larson. I have used those skills throughout my life, which has taken me far from Fredonia.

Other students, who became my lifelong pals, were also drawn by his leadership and the sense of friendship and community.

Most cross-country teams had a dozen or so members. Fredonia teams under Larson filled a large school bus. The depth of the FHS track team, and its ability to score points against bigger schools, was also the fruit of his work, and that of the aid of his brother, Jack Larson.

We didn’t know it at the time, of course, but our teams were the first of what was to become a FHS dynasty under Coach Fred Larson.

As the decades passed, I maintained contact with Larson and still value his opinions and comments. It has been a special treat to see Larson still running on village streets long after many have retreated to their rocking chairs.

Coach Fred Larson is a true asset to the Fredonia community. There are thousands of people like me whose lives were influenced by his selfless work as an educator.

John J. Runfola Jr. is a Schenectady resident and member of the Class of 1970.

The additional financial assistance of the community is critical to the success of the Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame.
We gratefully acknowledge these individuals and organizations for their generous support.