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May 23rd, 2024
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Wright College Cross Country Reunion - Ram Restaurant & Brewery - Friday April 11th ...©Copyright Bill Thom

    Yep, it's been almost 25 years since the upstart, underrated, unexpected Wright College Rams/Flyers (choose your preferred mascot) shocked the NJCAA Region IV by winning the 1978 Cross Country Championship. Shocked, that is, everyone in the region but themselves.
    The team was made up of Chicago area graduates who were decent to good in high school but not what you would label as superstars. Coach Don Warner had a knack for spotting potential and then talking (talking, talking, talking…) these green-shoes into changing their post graduate plans -to- attending Wright College and running on the team. How convincing was the Coach? In 1978 he had 15 eager runners fighting for the seven spots on the team. At early season meets other conference coaches would beg for his surplus.
    Where Coach Warner could assemble a team, assistant Coach Kurt Shallenberger could show them how to run. Kurt was nationally ranked with a 28:48 10,000-meter track pr, and a one time dark horse pick to win the Boston Marathon. When schedules aligned Kurt trained and traveled with the team instilling his attitude for winning and method of "Train like an animal, drink lots of…" (carbohydrate enriched liquid).
    Despite Wrights success during the cross-country season they toed the line of the Region IV championship race ranked 2nd to 6-year defending champs, Lincoln Land College. The favorites were nervous, though. Five seconds into the race a cry of, "They're in white" rang out from the Lincoln Land camp. In a clever coaching maneuver Warner had Wright wearing colors they had not shown all year. The thinking was this might confuse other teams providing a slight advantage. It didn't matter. Five miles later the true order was undeniably established as Wright College set a meet record scoring a Region IV low point total (31). Only 46 seconds separated Wright's 1st runner from 5th runner.
    This past April some alumni of Wrights cross country team got together for some deep beers and tall tales. The meeting was convened at Ram (how apropos)  Restaurant and Brewery in Wheeling, IL. Perhaps the whole team should reunite for an all-comers, celebratorial 5 mile run at the hallowed grounds of Schiller Woods this coming fall. Who still has their Pre-Montreal's?

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