THOMASTON – They ran that day. Fast. Faster than anybody else. They ran right through the finish line at Berlin’s Timberlin Golf Course into the headlines and scrapbooks and small town immortality.
It was a magical moment in time that crisp November 9 Friday in 1973. All was right with the world. Even perfect you might say for a group of fleet-footed teenagers and a teen-age looking coach with a stylish head of long black hair and a talent for motivation.
What is better for a high school athlete than a state championship? Absolutely nothing. It is the moment the best of dreams becomes the best of reality. Throw in the extra jubilation of a first time in a small town and you have a lifetime smile. You may lose the immediacy of the day but you never lose the satisfaction and warmth of the accomplishment.
On that November day in 1973 the Thomaston High cross country team in just its fourth year of existence nipped Stafford by a stride, 112-113, to taste the delirium of reaching its running pinnacle and send two busloads of fans on the best bus ride back home ever.
State titles are never just one day. They happen one day but the shelf life of the experience is forever. You never forget, you never stop running. And small towns don’t forget.
Thomaston ran its Diane Burr Road Race Sunday and honored the 1973 state champs. Four of the seven varsity runners were there. Only John Petit, who died in 2018, Gary Schenkel and Ken Thulin who live out of state were not present. Coach Mike Landry died last March at the age of 77.
It’s been a half century since the running Bears owned the Timberlin Golf Course but they wore the pride like it was yesterday. Team member Bob Knox looked resplendent in his brown and gold, leather – sleeved lettermen’s jacket adorned with the state title emblem.
Art Williams was loaded down with a scrapbook of achievement. Dave Krasnowski, Will Cote and the team’s centerpiece, Dean Stephens wouldn’t have missed it and didn’t. Cote made the trek from South Carolina and Stephens from California.
The beauty of that Nov. 9, 1973 day didn’t end with race. The impact of the day was just beginning. The presence of Mike Landry’s wife Irene and the children was testament that it has always been about more than at title and a banner on the gym wall.
The Landry’s taught in the Thomaston school system for eight years (1969-1977), Mike a high school math guy and Irene and elementary teacher, and went on spectacularly diverse experiences teaching and coaching in the Netherlands and Malaysia before returning to Connecticut.
But the impact of state championship in a small town and lifetime friendship traveled with them through time and distance.
“Mike and I have had an amazing life experiences around the world,” Irene said. “And one of the premier experiences was in our own backyard.”
The feet stopped flying at some point for all the members of the team but the lessons learned turned the magic on one day into a learning and love affair for a lifetime.
Stephens, looking slim and trim ran the race, no surprise. He earned legendary status in Thomaston and renown in the running world beyond Thomaston. There were two BL titles and a Class S title. He finished fourth in the State Open. He was the State Open 800 champion. He went on to Dartmouth and became the Ivy League cross country champion earning All-Ivy and All-East honors. He was Junior Olympian and Olympic hopeful for the 1980 Olympics.
You get the picture. But if high school unleashed Stephens running prowess, cross country and the state title also gave him the tools to become an eminently successful businessman. Stephens started an internet company called Health Line which became one of the largest on-line health services in the world. He also created Talix, also extremely successful.
Go back to Thomaston High cross country. Stephens cut part of his business acumen wearing Golden Bears brown and gold on the streets of Thomaston.
“The impact of overcoming underdog status came from the state title,” Stephens said. “We hadn’t had much historical success in winning championships in Thomaston. We were just a small hard-working town. We were always the underdog, even in the press. Winning that championship transformed into a lifelong effort to push ourselves. If you look at how successful so many of our runners were its amazing. I wanted to build an information technology company in health care and I built the Health Line Company from scratch.
We wanted to prove we could come from a small town and beat anybody in the state. We were constantly pushing each other. We strived to be much better than we could have as individuals. We had goals. It was the same thing when I built my company. I had to build teams. “
Cote became Director of Operations for 14 manufacturing companies around the world in places like the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Brazil, Canada and the U.S. for the Torrington Company – Timken. Corporation. A long way away from the Timberlin Golf Course. Or maybe not so long.
“The state championship gave me confidence that I could do things,” Cote said. “It was about team building and trying to figure out how you go from where you are to be better. We lost in cross country and got better. I talked to people at work all the time about that. “
Petit went on to become a successful financial investor. Williams and Krasnowski also had successful careers. Williams sons T.J. and Alan were runners with Alan winning the Class S champion in 2000, maybe in part inspired by his team’s title and having Krasnowski and Schenkel show up at the house one day and giving their state championship jackets to the two boys.
You want to talk running, Williams will talk running. But it is more about what the running created.
“I can’t explain the bond we made,” Williams made. “We won two BL titles and a state title. It was more than you could think possible. Everybody notices at class reunions that we all come back. They notice us because of the title. It was the school’s second state championship ever. It will always be a bond.”
Mike Landry was always proud of his team, not just because of the championship but because of what they had become as adults. He was not there but is always there with the 1973 group.
“They saw his vision and he drove them hard,” said Irene. “He was always able to bring out the best in them. He was always very humble. He was a very, very good man. It was a moment in time that he always took pride in.”
The 1973 had a magical day Nov. 9. 1973. The race ended 50 years ago. The impact lasts a lifetime. It was never about one day; it has always been about forever.