Lakota’s ‘band of misfits’ were 1983 state boys cross country champions

Brian Hill doesn’t have to work very hard to drum up some memories of Lakota High School’s only state boys cross country championship.

Hill was the T-Birds’ No. 1 runner in the fall of 1983 when they captured the Class AAA title. He lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., these days, but he was thrilled to take a trip down memory lane nearly 35 years after achieving Ohio supremacy.

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“I almost get chills now thinking about it,” said Hill, 52. “It was one of the best times of my life. We had a little band of misfits that just made it happen.”

Lakota, of course, doesn’t exist anymore, having split into East and West in 1997. The T-Bird girls were 1984 state champions, grabbing the only other team cross country title in Lakota district history.

The T-Bird boys edged Stow Walsh Jesuit 120-127 on Nov. 5, 1983, at Ohio State University’s Biggs Athletic Facility in Columbus. The 5,000-meter course was where the Schottenstein Center and the Woody Hayes Athletic Center are today.

“It was just the perfect scenario,” said Lakota coach Jason Lindsey, now retired and living in Oxford. “It was a lot of time and effort from a very talented and great group of guys, and it came to fruition for them. And it was a historic first for the Lakotas. Basically we were no longer going to be a cowtown out in the boonies anymore.”

Hill and Joe Welling were the only seniors on the state championship team. Hill had made it to state twice before as an individual, finishing 55th as a sophomore and sixth as a junior.

The 1983 T-Birds were the first boys team in school history to advance to the state meet. Lindsey said his 1982 squad was very good, but injuries and a strong Southwest Ohio field kept Lakota from qualifying.

“We had a couple real bad breaks at the end of the season,” Lindsey said. “Those things happen. Everything has to come together at the right time.”

The T-Birds were locked in a season-long battle with Elder for Greater Cincinnati bragging rights in 1983. Lakota beat the Panthers at the Lakota Fall Classic, and Elder won the district title (the three levels were sectional, district and state in ’83).

There were separate state races for teams and individuals at that time. Everybody started running together in 1985 when the state meet moved to Scioto Downs.

Hill showed the way to the state title by finishing second with a time of 15:23 in the team race. Junior Jim Hedrick was sixth (15:49), followed by Welling (20th), junior Greg Crecelius (31st), junior Steve Crecelius (61st), junior Greg Woodruff (70th) and junior Randy Hale (101st).

“It wasn’t like there were elements involved,” Hill said. “It was typically overcast, nothing colder than what you’d expect for that time of year. At that point in time, it didn’t matter whether it was 20 degrees or 80 degrees. Everybody was just amped up.

“We had Elder on one side and two other teams that had their little celebratory chants before the race, and it was intimidating. But we made it happen. The way I remember it is that everyone not only ran to their potential, but probably over.”

The top five runners do the scoring, and Lindsey said Welling’s Top 20 finish was a key. So, too, was the effort of No. 5 man Steve Crecelius, who was recovering from shin splints and had finished poorly the week before.

“He didn’t have a lack of effort or talent. It was just a tactical mistake going out too fast when he was just coming back,” Lindsey said. “When we got to state, the whole plan was for him to sit behind Elder’s fifth guy for two miles, then just take off and blow him away. He was like, ‘If I only have to beat one guy, I can do that.’ And he did.”

Alliance’s Lowell Terrell set a fast pace and couldn’t be caught by Hill, winning in 15:17.3. Lindsey and Hill weren’t focused on Terrell heading into the race.

“We knew the Walsh Jesuit guy was undefeated, but we didn’t realize they had two separate races out of the Cleveland area and he didn’t run against the guy from Alliance,” Lindsey said of Terrell, who went on to win the 3,200-meter state track title in the spring. “It would be easy to see that today, but there was no Internet back then. You had to rely on papers and what you heard.”

“He went way out in front of everyone,” Hill recalled. “I was trying to reel him in, and obviously I did not. So I finished second, and Coach Lindsey was at the finish line. He goes, ‘Hey Brian, we’ve got a chance to win this thing. Let’s run back up and cheer on our guys.’ I was exhausted, but I did.”

Elder didn’t challenge Lakota at state, placing fifth with 189 points. Tiffin Columbian and Greenville both had 172.

The T-Birds’ championship celebration was actually their second of the day. The team’s race-day preparation began with a morning run.

“Nobody was really talking or yukking it up,” Hill said. “Long-distance runners, we’re a bunch of comedians sometimes … it gets boring out there on the roads. But we were all just kind of tense.

“So we came back after our little one-mile run, and Coach Lindsey is trying to get us to loosen up. He put us up on this rock ledge and said, ‘Guys, pretend like you just won the state championship and celebrate.’ We were like, ‘Yay. OK. Cool. Great.’ He said, ‘No, you need to scream. You need to yell. You need to celebrate just like you’re going to end up winning it. Get up there and yell again.’ So we went up there and yelled like we were a bunch of high schoolers, and we ended up winning the damn thing.”

Said Lindsey, “We had practiced everything else, but we hadn’t ever practiced getting up on the podium. My thought was, ‘Let’s not leave any stone unturned and give them a good frame of mind.’ Of course, we had to do the same thing the next year with the girls, so it became like something they had to do after that.”

Hill said one of his best memories was seeing how much joy the state title gave Lindsey. The coach had a close bond with the team that was no doubt strengthened by the fact that he ran with his athletes in practice.

“He wasn’t a coach that followed you around in a van,” Hill said. “Coach Lindsey would run every hard practice. When I started competing with him and beating him, that’s when I felt like I’d reached it.

“He was just the best coach you could ever imagine. He was just salt of the earth, one of my best mentors in life. I didn’t know it then because I was 16, 18 years old, but I know it now.”

Hedrick turned out to be the only T-Bird from the state championship team that ran in college (at Illinois State).

Hill had some collegiate offers, but a stress fracture wiped out his senior track season, and he decided to just be a student at the University of Oklahoma.

“You don’t get a full ride for running long-distance cross country and track,” said Hill, who dealt with multiple injuries during his running career. “I was kind of beat up from running, maybe a little burned out, so I just decided not to run.”

How did Hill end up at Oklahoma, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees?

“My stepdad went to the University of Oklahoma,” he said. “I recalled over the years that he would watch the Sooners play football, and I thought, ‘Well, let’s go down there.’ So I went down there my junior or senior year just to scope it out, and I fell in love with it. I had a great time at OU.”

Hill has lived in Colorado Springs for five years and works in the technology industry —he’s a regional finance manager for Cisco Systems. He likes to hike and said fly fishing has become his passion.

There hasn’t been a state championship reunion, but Hill is hopeful that it will happen at some point. He admitted that he’s lost touch with his former teammates.

“I’m not a Facebook guy. I just don’t do it, and I need to,” Hill said. “We really need to get back together. We spent a lot of time with each other in high school. It’s worth keeping those types of friends.”

Lindsey, 66, spends a lot of time at Kentucky Lake and Lake Cumberland. His next-door neighbor in Oxford is Miami University athletic director David Sayler.

“I walk, play golf whenever I can and do some fishing,” Lindsey said.

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