Reaping the Harvest
Emery Plourde competed during the late 1930s and early 1940s, first for Caribou High School and later at Seton Hall University. He was state champion in track and cross country, set seven county and state records, and won the indoor mile in the National Interscholastic Indoor Track Championship in 1941. He also placed second that year in the National Prep School Cross Country Championship.
Born on Oct. 4, 1920, Plourde grew up on a small potato farm in North Caribou, and it was there on back country roads that he started running. At Caribou, his coach was Harry Richardson, who had achieved national prominence as a runner. Richardson and a teammate, Francis Lindsay, tied in winning the National Intercollegiate Cross Country Championship in 1929. The pair had also won three straight New England Championships in the same manner.
Plourde’s team at Caribou won the State Cross Country Championship in 1938. Actually, that was unexpected, because early in the season the team was not very strong. But three of the school’s best athletes, Lawrence Hutchinson, Leon O’Clair, and Milton Knox, went out for cross country to prepare for the upcoming basketball season. “They trained very hard and when the county and state meets rolled around, those fellows filled right in,” said Plourde.
In those days, the state meet was held before the county meet. But even prior to the state meet, Caribou beat the Maine freshmen who were traditionally very strong. “We were running against some of the best runners in the state,” he recalled. Plourde won the race and came within three-tenths of a second of the course record, covering the 2.5-mile route in 13:03.25. In the state meet at Orono, Caribou scored 96 points, winning the title over Portland and Wilton by just eight points. Plourde placed third in the race behind the Toothaker twins from Phillips High. Hutchinson took 14th, O’Clair was 23rd, and Emerson Pendleton was 51st. In fact, Plourde would have won many more championship races if it had not been for Maurice and Malcolm Toothaker.
Plourde took his running very seriously and started training for the cross country season the first of August. That was not an easy task due because this was right in the middle of the harvest season. “I’d pick potatoes all day, go home and get something to eat, and go out running at eight o’clock that night,” he remembered.
In the fall of 1938, Plourde took 15th in the New England Cross Country Championship at Providence, R.I. The field included 145 runners and the individual winner was Maurice Toothaker. In 1939, in the absence of the Toothaker twins who had graduated the previous June, Plourde won the state cross country meet and also placed second in the New England’s at Boston. In 1940, he won both the mile and 880 in the state outdoor track meet, setting records in both events. Later that fall, he won the New Jersey Schoolboy Cross Country Championships held at Seton Hall. That year he was presented with a special award by the Caribou Rotary Club for setting seven county and state records.
In 1940, Plourde set an Aroostook County mile record of 4:30.4, which held for over 40 years. In other competition while in high school, he took first in the mile at the National Schoolboy Indoor Track Championship at Madison Square Garden in 1941. In the fall of ’41, he took second in the National Prep School Cross Country Championships at Elizabeth Park, N.J. “He knew in those depression years that college was out of the question where finances were concerned, but he realized that athletic scholarships were offered to qualifying athletes,” said his wife.
After graduation from high school, Plourde was offered scholarships from Bridgton Academy, Rhode Island State, Idaho University, and Seton Hall. Idaho had also offered a scholarship to Maurice Toothaker which he turned down. Plourde decided on Seton Hall. He was a member of that school’s two-mile relay team which took third in the Penn Relays in 1942. He was also national runner-up in cross country. Also in 1942, Plourde won a 1000-yard handicap race at the New York Knights of Columbus Indoor Meet at Madison Square Garden.
Among his fondest memories were competing against national and Olympic steeplechase bronze medalist Joe McCluskey, running the two fastest miles in New England as a senior, and doubling in the mile and half mile at Portland in record time in atrocious weather conditions.
After college he served in the Army Air Corps during WWII, and after the war he married and raised a family of six children. During the years since, Plourde served as official starter at track and cross country meets at Caribou High School. He also served as starter for area road races. Over the years he encouraged hundreds of youth to excel in the sport of running.