STORY AND PHOTOS BY JAMIE KEMPTON
Although he has been gone for more than 25 years, Bill Markiewicz’s imprint on the Rockland Alumni Cross Country Run is unmistakable. Not only is the race named in memory of the beloved former Clarkstown North coach, but many of his ex-harriers return to Bear Mountain on Thanksgiving Saturday each year to pay homage to their esteemed mentor, and Markiewicz family members unfailingly join in to celebrate his legacy. As if that’s not enough, the award given annually to a difference-maker in the world of Rockland County cross country is named the Bill Markiewicz Award.
Coach Markiewicz, who died of cancer in 1991 at age 41, would have been proud to witness the 35th renewal of this yearly rite of autumn, held Nov. 25 on a sun-splashed afternoon at Bear Mountain. During his tenure as Clarkstown North’s cross country coach from 1978 to 1989, Markiewicz pushed his runners to their maximum efforts and personal best times over the challenging three-mile course, which includes a mid-race momentum-stopper up the steep ski-jump access road. The coach’s fiery intensity and concern for all of his athletes endeared him to everyone in the close-knit Rockland cross country community.
This year’s recipient of the Markiewicz Award, Bob Dillon, saw firsthand the impact Bill Markiewicz had on those under his tutelage. Dillon, the 1969 Rockland County cross country champion and key contributor to three Section 9 and two Rockland County team titles for Clarkstown, succeeded Markiewicz as head cross country coach at Clarkstown North in 1990. He went on to lead the Rams to a Section 1 championship in 1996, the program’s first sectional title since the 1983 club piloted by Markiewicz. Dillon also coached his teams to five runner-up finishes at the County meet and four appearances in the state Federation championships.
“I was lucky enough to have great coaching as an athlete learning how to train and compete,” he said, referring to coaches Joe D’Innocenzo, Tom DePatto and Albertus Magnus coach Dick Teetsel. “However, Bill Markiewicz showed me how to coach. Bill knew how to motivate athletes to, as he would say, ‘get in the hunt’ to achieve their full potential. Bill was a coach’s coach, as acknowledged by the coaching community naming the Alumni race in his honor.” Dillon’s longtime support of the Alumni Run as both a participant and dedicated volunteer bespeaks the commitment and passion that were trademarks of his coaching predecessor. Just prior to the race, with the runners assembled on the starting line, Dillon gratefully accepted the Markiewicz Award, presented as always by Janet Markiewicz, Bill’s widow. Among the participants she cheered on were two of her and Bill’s children, Dan Markiewicz, Goshen class of 1996, and Matt Markiewicz, Goshen class of 1993, and Bill’s brother, Mike Markiewicz, Albertus Magnus class of 1970. Bill Markiewicz was a 1967 graduate of Albertus.
Inspiration was not hard to come by at this year’s race. Perhaps the greatest runner in Clarkstown North’s history, Mike Rogan from the class of 1986, returned to the Alumni Run for the first time since suffering a traumatic brain injury in July 2013. He had fallen down two flights of stairs at his home in Indiana and sustained severe facial and skull fractures. Through rigorous rehab work he has improved his mobility, though the injuries have left him unable to return to work. Rogan had been an emergency room physician in Evansville, Ind., and later a medical researcher who co-authored an application that won a $250,000 grant from the American Heart Association for research on shock following cardiac arrest as well as septic shock from infection.
While at Clarkstown North, Rogan won the state indoor title at 1,000 meters, ran the third-fastest time in the country in that event in 1986 (2:29.59), and swept the 5,000, 1,500 and 800-meter races at the spring county championships. At Notre Dame, he set a still-standing school record for the indoor 1,500 meters (3:47.64) and ran the equivalent of a 4:02 mile.
Twenty-two years ago, Rogan won the Rockland County cross country title on the Bear Mountain course. Although his time at this year’s Alumni race was almost a half-hour slower than his ’85 title run, none of that mattered as he was engulfed by former teammates upon exiting the finish-line chute. One could not help but conjure an image of Bill Markiewicz extending a firm handshake and congratulatory hug to his prize pupil, just as he might with all of his protégés.
“Bill demanded a lot,” Rogan had said upon his induction into the Rockland County Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2008. “He believed in and really cared about his kids and was personally involved. I don’t think I could have been anywhere near as successful without a guy like him.”
As for the race itself, Monroe-Woodbury of Orange County made a clean sweep of the individual and team honors. Jack Jibb, class of 2015 and a junior at the University of Buffalo, outdistanced a field of 159 participants with a winning time of 16 minutes 3 seconds. Runner-up John Dove, Monroe-Woodbury class of 2014, finished 100 meters behind in 16:24, and two seconds thereafter came Patrick Hennelly, Suffern class of 2016, the 2015 Rockland scholastic champion.
Since 2000, Suzanne La Burt, Monroe-Woodbury class of 1981, had claimed six runner-up finishes, four third-place finishes, and 15 times among the top five finishers. Finally, at age 54, the elusive title is hers, truly demonstrating the persistence of the long-distance runner. La Burt clocked 20:17 to spearhead a 1-2-3 sweep for the Crusaders with alumni teammates Abagaile Kimbrell, class of 2017, and Julianne Littmann-Viscardo, class of 1995, who has won the women’s division eight times, a meet record.
With all of that individual success, it’s hardly surprising that Monroe-Woodbury snared team accolades as well. The Crusader men nabbed their sixth championship comfortably with a low score of 40 points, followed by Suffern with 75. The Crusader women ran unchallenged, scoring 30 points to run off with their eighth consecutive title and 14th overall, tops in meet history. Monroe-Woodbury also secured the participation crown with 36 entrants.
The race drew participants representing 40 high schools in seven states: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Illinois, Indiana and California. Entrants’ ages ranged from 18 to 75.
Besides Littmann-Viscardo, other past Alumni Run champions who competed were Nick Roosa, Tappan Zee class of 2003, the 2005 and 2011 titleholder, who placed fifth; and a pair of 2012 Suffern graduates: Kyle Collins, the 2014 winner; and Evan Ward, the defending champ who finished sixth this time. In addition to Hennelly, former Rockland County scholastic champions who participated included Jim Dinan, Nanuet class of 1987, and Brendan Fennell, Pearl River class of 2003, a three-time County and two-time New York State gold medalist who was voted Male Runner of the Decade for Rockland from 2000 to 2009.
Larry Beckerle, Albertus Magnus class of 1973, completed the course to maintain his unmatched streak of having participated in all 35 editions of the event.