Albertus harriers return to the scene of their triumphs

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By Jamie Kempton

Forty-five years ago, the Albertus Magnus High School cross country team swept through Bear Mountain State Park like a typhoon, capturing Rockland County and Section 9 titles en route to the most dominant season in the sport’s illustrious history in Rockland. On Saturday, November 30, six members of the Falcons’ famed “Long Red Line” harrier squad returned to the scene of their watershed triumphs to take part in the 37th annual Bill Markiewicz Memorial Rockland County Alumni Cross Country Run, co-sponsored by the Rockland Road Runners.

On a sun-bathed, 40-degree afternoon at one of the most picturesque locales in the Hudson Valley, Michael Colangelo, George Buckheit, Gil Wager, Brian Kelly and Jamie Kempton – supported by “team photographer” and former teammate John McNiff – joined 156 other alumni runners in touring the well-trod 3-mile Bear Mountain layout used by local scholastic teams. Sharing equal billing with the participants, the course is marked by (and feared for) the steep climb of the old ski-jumping slope, site of regional and national championship events for more than 50 years. The Albertus harriers remembered the ascent as being challenging but manageable back in their days of vim and vigor.

Not now, though. “The hill got bigger,” said Buckheit, Albertus class of 1975, who won the Alumni Run in 1985 and 1987 and is second-fastest ever (14:36). “I just tried to survive it.” That he did, finishing as the Falcons’ sixth runner in 89th place out of 161 entrants in 25:40, more than 11 minutes off his personal best. The Falcon fossils, now all in their 60s, enjoyed their nostalgic sojourn on the storied course, albeit decidedly slower than in 1974, when they took the scholastic cross country realm by storm. Albertus, coached by the astute Dick Weis, went undefeated and unchallenged, winning the New York State Intersectional Class B title with a record-low score, salting away the Eastern States championship with ease, and earning the No. 2 ranking in the nation – the highest rating ever achieved by a Rockland high school team. Colangelo was their front-runner, dashing to victory in the County and State Intersectional meets and cementing his place in the Rockland XC pantheon. Earlier this year, the Long Red Line received an additional capstone distinction, becoming the first team to gain induction into the Rockland County Track & Field Hall of Fame. Colangelo had been inducted individually in 2011.

The Albertus alumni finished seventh in the team standings with 266 points, abetted by their fifth scorer, Brian Crowley, AM class of 1982, who won the 1990 Alumni Run and continues to shine as a masters (40-or-older) athlete. The men’s team title went to Monroe-Woodbury of Orange County, which scored 44 points for a 20-point victory margin over runner-up Suffern (64). The MW Crusaders have won three straight and eight overall, tying them with Albertus for the second-most men’s team crowns, behind Clarkstown North’s nine. The Suffern women re-entered the winner’s circle after a 28-year hiatus, scoring 82 points as the only female squad with a full scoring unit. The Lady Mounties thus snapped a string of nine consecutive team championships by Monroe-Woodbury.

Individually, John Dove, Monroe-Woodbury class of 2014, romped to his second straight crown, navigating the Bear Mountain layout in 15:32 to outdistance runner-up Corey Calajoe (16:03), Pearl River class of 2004, by 150 yards. Suzanne LaBurt, Monroe-Woodbury class of 1981, secured her second title in three years and broke 20 minutes for the first time, clocking 19:47. Since 2000, she has won twice, finished second seven times and third four times. Not too shabby for a 56-year-old! The Crusaders of Monroe-Woodbury also led the way with 32 participants, laying claim to that honor for the 10th straight year and 17th overall.

The race is named in memory of Bill Markiewicz, Albertus Magnus class of 1967, who was head coach of the Clarkstown North cross country team from 1978 to 1989. He endeared himself to everyone with his charismatic personality and deep devotion to his athletes and the cross country/track community as a whole. This year’s recipient of the Bill Markiewicz Award – bestowed annually to a significant, longtime contributor to Rockland cross country – was Pete Modafferi, Clarkstown South class of 1995. Modafferi was the 1994 Rockland County cross country champion and the 1995 NYS Federation 1,000-meter gold medalist. He has coached at Clarkstown South in track since 1998 and in cross country since 2003, and has participated in the Alumni Run many times, including this year’s 100th-place finish (26:22). Modafferi was presented with the award by Janet Markiewicz, Bill’s widow, who makes the trek annually from her home in Goshen to perpetuate the Markiewicz legacy.

One of Markiewicz’s all-time greats, Mike Rogan, Clarkstown North class of 1986, made the trip from his home in Evansville, Indiana, for the third straight year. Rogan’s plight is especially poignant. He suffered a traumatic brain injury in July 2013, having fallen down two flights of stairs at his home and sustaining severe facial and skull fractures. Through strenuous rehabilitation he has improved his mobility, although his injuries have left him unable to go back to work. He had been an emergency room physician and medical researcher in Indiana.

In a Hall of Fame career at 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. Thirty-four years ago, Rogan won the Rockland County cross country title at Bear Mountain in a super-fast time of 15:05. Post-injury, he just aims to better his time from the previous year. He is now 3-for-3 in that department, progressing from 43:25 in 2017 to 36:23 last year, and to 31:23 this year. Rogan basked in the well-wishes he received at the race from his fellow Ram alums and his former track coach at North, Paul Duddy.

The race drew 129 male entrants and 32 female entrants, representing 40 high schools from six states – New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Indiana and California – as well as an international entry from Ireland. Among the other notables participating were former Rockland County scholastic champions Colangelo, Modafferi and Rogan, and past Alumni Run titlists Evan Ward, Suffern class of 2012, who finished third (16:04); Kyle Collins, a classmate of Ward’s, who took sixth (16:37); Brian McKnight, Monroe-Woodbury class of 1997, the 11th-place finisher (17:55); LaBurt, who placed 25th overall; Crowley; and Buckheit. The family participation crown went to the Collins family of Suffern – siblings Kyle, Wesley and Dustin and their dad, Mike, who was a third-place finisher back in 1987 and maintains a website devoted to the Alumni Run and Rockland track/cross country, www.rocklandsportingnews.com.

Larry Beckerle, Albertus Magnus class of 1973, is the only individual to have participated in all 37 editions of the Alumni Run. Beckerle, the longtime track coach at Nanuet High School, finished 132nd in 31:05, trailing his brothers, Michael, Nanuet class of 1979 (42nd , 21:42), and Stephen, Albertus class of 1974 (103rd, 26:34). Also noteworthy is the streak of Sue (Gulla) Lanoce, Pearl River class of 1983, who has taken part in the last 36 editions, missing only the inaugural race in 1983.