They're still talking about Stephens in Thomaston
They’re still talking about Stephens in Thomaston
His name still creates a murmur around the small town – “Hey, did you hear, Dean’s back. Hey, Dean is running up at Nystrom’s today, he’s back.” Word moves quickly in the small town, almost as quick as Dean Stephens’ feet used to motor around area cross country courses and tracks.
Dean Stephens was back in Thomaston Saturday, actually he arrived a few days before to see his parents and attend the wedding of the daughter of one of his old teammates, Art Williams. Accompanied by his 16-year-old daughter, Maria, Stephens decided to take in part in Thomaston High cross country coach Mark Olsen’s Heery Summer Running Series held at the town’s Nystrom’s Pond, a 2.2 fun run to get people running, keep them running and offer a healthy no-pressure exercise opportunity.
Word spread because when it comes to Stephens there is a running reverence that has not dissipated over the years. He is running royalty big-time.
A lot of athletes come back home but Dean Stephens is not a lot of athletes. He never was. He is the most dominant athlete in Thomaston High School history. For him, it wasn’t about shooting a basketball, hitting a baseball or throwing a football, sports where greatness has the edge in making you small-town immortal.
Stephens did it all with a pair of legs and feet that just ran the opposition into hopelessness and enviousness. A 1974 THS graduate, Stephens’ Golden Bear and Dartmouth College days ooze running brilliance.
In an era where running on a high school level didn’t exactly demand the front page, even of the sports section, Stephens made you take notice. He owned every cross country course record in the Berkshire League.
There are two Berkshire League titles and a Class S championship. He finished fourth in the State Open. He was in a group that was in the top 50 high school runners in the country. It didn’t stop there.
He was the State Open 800 champion, an accomplishment that still makes him brim - “I was very proud of that. I think it helped provided some confidence and enthusiasm for the small schools that they could come and compete against the gig schools.”
Stephens’ 1:55 in the 880 would have finished second in this year’s State Open, 38 years later. He was timed at 10. 1 in the 100-yard dash, although he believes the time was wind-aided and he was, “more of a 10.4 guy.” He ran a 4:24 mile and lowered that to 4:05 in college.
In indoor track Stephens was both a 50-yard and mile champion, a talent that had the sprinters ready to steal his running sneakers.
“I used to run the 100-yard dash to get warmed up for the mile,” said Stephens with a chuckle. “At the BL Championships they were all targeting me. I did the long jump instead and finished third.”
“I wanted competition, it was more about beating others than beating yourself,” said Stephens. “Art Williams used to have a saying - `we don’t want to beat other teams, we want to crush them.”
That laundry list of accomplishments would have been enough to insure Stephens’ place in Thomaston lore. But Dartmouth added another touch of authenticity. Some athletes are small-town and area big, Stephens showed he was big-time anywhere.
He went on to Dartmouth where he became the Ivy League cross country champion and set several school records. He was All-Ivy and All-East. Stephens barely missed Yale runner and future Olympic Marathon champion Frank Shorter’s running mark by one second.
A junior Olympian, Stephens attempted to qualify for the ill-fated1980 Olympics (President Carter did not let the U.S. participate due to Russia’sinvasion of Afghanistan)i in the pentathlon and 5000 meters.
There is an obvious pride in all that was done.
“Thomaston was a great environment to train,” said Stephens who ran for coach Mike Landry. “Thomaston gave me a lot of confidence to go to a Division I school and succeed there.”
Stephens’ success in case you didn’t figure out by the resume and the Dartmouth education did not end when they feet slowed down a bit. He lived in Seattle where he became very successful in the wine business and started an internet company called Health Line which is one of the largest on-line health services in the world.
Currently he lives in Marin County California and recently became an assistant cross country coach at powerful 800-student Marin Catholic High which is coached by former Yale football player Earl Downing, a Calvin Hill contemporary in the late 1960s.
Maybe the biggest bonus to the coaching is the chance to work with Maria, a promising runner, who will enter her junior year this fall.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Stephens. I see a whole different side now that it is not father-daughter but coach-athlete. It’s allowed me to spend more time with her and improved our father-daughter relationship. I’m an entrepreneur and I lot time I wasn’t home a lot.”
Stephens has also not been weighted down by his excellence, a struggle so many top-notch athletes have when athletes can’t live up to what they once were. “Our motto is we run for fun, we race to win.” But, he sees beyond the finish line.
“One of the things we started at Thomaston was that everyone was on the team, we cut no one and we applauded kids who just were able to finish,’ said Stephens. “At Dartmouth we embraced everybody on the team. We didn’t cut people.
“I coached 15 middle and long distance runners this year and tracked their performances. We set 64 personal records. My goal is to get everybody to set personal records.”
Stephens has done well out on the left coast both personally and professionally. But the life line to Thomaston remains strong. You can take the man out of Thomaston but not Thomaston out of the man.
He has followed the stunning success of the Thomaston High cross country teams over the last decade through some of his old teammates and the internet. He has thrilled to see some of the success of the program being produced by the offspring of his old teammates such as Alan Williams who won a Class S crown and led the Bears to the title in 2000.
He only half-jokingly would love to see his daughter run with the Golden Bears’ fabulous four of Sabrina Olsen, Becky Perugini, Cam Chaplen and Mackenzie Blair that has run the program into the record books, qualifying for the New England Regionals twice.
“It feels like it has become a tradition here (winning titles),” said Stephens. “I don’t know if we started it but I almost feel disappointed that my kids aren’t here and part of this awesome team to create one of the best teams. It would be great to see Thomaston become a powerhouse not just in the BL and in New England but in the country. I’m hoping the town realized this legacy and I’m hopeful they get the track and tennis facility going.”
Stephens time was a long time ago, moving on towards four decades. For a long time he has lived 3,000 miles away. But they were talking, they knew he was back. Brilliance doesn’t age; it just takes on a timeless gloss.
Somehow they knew. They were talking. Somehow big-time never becomes small-time. They knew.
By the way, Stephens runs once a week due to some hurting Achilles’ tendons. But his time was very respectable. Still hard to catch, state of the art when trying to match.