1985 Onondaga Central Boys’ Cross Country Team
It may not seem that Onondaga Central had the ingredients for a state scholastic championship. But somehow, OCS boys’ cross country coach Bill Donnelly concocted a recipe for greatness … one of David slew Goliath proportions.
In 1985, Donnelly was a 44-year-old social studies teacher who just months before had lost his wife, Carol, to a sudden heart attack. He coached an 8-member team, and the boys served as pallbearers.
His team was undermanned, even bringing up seventh-graders to the varsity.
The school district stretched 20 miles, but the enrollment of 233 was at the bottom rung of the Class C ladder. And yet, 31 years ago — on a November 16th that tasted of autumn and winter at Long Island’s Sunken Meadow State Park — the tiny ‘Tortoises’ of OCS stunned New York’s cross country heavyweights.
The smallest school in the New York State Federation Meet, OCS had finished second in the Sectionals and Intersectionals to Beaver River (who opted out of the States – thus giving OCS the opportunity to run in the Federation championship).
Donnelly eschewed the school nickname of Tigers and called his team the Tortoises, because “progression through the pack” was the team philosophy. And progress they did that day.
Led by Kevin Vanboden’s third-place finish, OCS had a final score of 150 — placing three runners in the top 25 — in winning New York’s biggest scholastic meet.
The Brothers Boughton (Dave, Tom) and Vanboden (Kevin, Patrick), Vinnie Loffredo, Bob Crump, Matt Stanton, and Bruce Ryan catapulted the tiny South Onondaga school onto the pages of The New York Times.
Patrick Vanboden, youngest member of the team, passed away this year. But many from that squad will be joining us at this year’s dinner.
Certainly, the 1985 Onondaga Central High School boys’ cross country team deserves to be recognized as this year’s Greater Syracuse Sports Hall of Fame’s Team of Honor.