1932 Houlton Cross Country Team
No small potatoes.
As a result of some fine running by the Houlton cross country team in 1932, a few more people from outside Maine learned how to correctly pronounce “Aroostook,” and even others learned where Houlton, Maine actually was. That year a talented bunch of runners, coached by Clyde Stinson, won the national schoolboy cross country championship and put Houlton on the map.
The story begins with a man who, until he went to the University of Maine at Orono, had set foot on the mainland of Maine only once in his life. Clyde Stinson had grown up on the island of South Deer Isle and entered the university in the mid-1920s, where he quickly became interested in running. On the same team as the legendary pair Bud Lindsay and Harry Richardson, Stinson’s cross country squad at Maine won three straight New England cross country titles, and in his senior year they took second in the national championship after finishing third the year prior.
After graduating in 1929, Stinson took a job teaching chemistry at Houlton where he talked the principal into starting a cross country team. In 1930, Stinson’s boys won the County championship and placed fourth in the state meet. Then in 1931, they won the state championship, putting six runners in the top 10. Leading the way was Houlton’s senior Frank Sherwood, who set a new state record on the course. They also won the New England Championship that year at Harvard. “This was a fast course as it was mostly flat and on cinders,” said Jasper Hardy, who was a sophomore on that team.
At the start of the 1932 cross country season, Houlton was without its two top runners who had graduated the previous June. Nevertheless, Stinson was very optimistic about the upcoming season. At a meet with the University of Maine freshmen, Houlton took the first five places as the five crossed the finish together holding hands. Again, the team went on to take the state championship.
Idolized by his runners, Stinson trained right along with them every day. “He was the best,” said Fred Murphy. And as far as the coach running with the team, Murphy added, “we liked it. You had to be in pretty good shape to keep up with those guys.”
After winning the state meet in 1932, Stinson considered entering his boys in the national championship and, after much convincing, he got permission from the superintendent.
But they would have to pay their own way there. Remember, this was in the midst of the Depression. Stinson at first believed that his boys might have a shot at second place, behind the highly-favored team from Schenectady, N.Y., who’d won the national championship in 1931. Already this season, Nott Terrace High had run roughshod over the best competition in New York and Pennsylvania. But, according to Stinson’s daughter, Wynne Lee Stinson Tidd, he eventually convinced himself that his boys had a chance to win.
With less than $25 between them, five members of the squad set out in a 1929 Model A Ford. They were able to take only five from the team because that’s all they had money for. Another car accompanied them, carrying Caribou’s coach Harry Richardson and his two top runners, Lawrence Giberson and Arnold Hale. Two of Houlton’s runners also rode .with them. Giberson, the best high school runner in Maine at the time and the reigning state cross country champ, would go on to take second in the 1932 national meet.
On November 24, 1932, Thanksgiving Day, about 200 runners from 32 schools in the U.S. and Canada lined up for the start of the 7th annual national championship race at Branch Brook Park in Newark, N.J. The course was 2.5 miles and nearly flat. The Houlton team took off with Caribou’s Giberson in their midst. But there were mishaps from the start. At the gun, someone behind Fred Murphy stepped on his heel and off flew one shoe. Murphy also got spiked in the process. It might not have been so bad but just ahead lay a stone bridle path. Murphy, who was third man on his team, tried to kick off the other shoe but could not. He knew he had to finish because there were only five runners on the team. He persisted and finished the race with a bloody foot in 18th place. “It probably wouldn’t have bothered me, but one foot was higher than the other,” said Murphy, recalling the race 64 years later. Lawrence Brown finished first for Houlton in sixth place. Garald Wiggins, a senior captain and the best runner on the team, took seventh, Eugene Williams was 19th, and Roy Gartley was 32nd.
Houlton had upset Nott Terrace High 61 to 65. The news hit the New York and New Jersey newspapers like a ton of bricks. Stinson’s daughter recalls, “The little town of Houlton went wild when they received the telegram from Coach Stinson.
Although Houlton was the first Maine team to win a national title, an individual runner from Hebron Academy, Corydon Jordan, won the race in 1927.
Following their championship win, Coach Stinson reportedly was offered several college coaching jobs, but turned them all down. He went on to teach and coach at Houlton for nearly 25 years.
At the time of their induction into the Maine Running Hall of Fame in October, 1996, only two members of the 1932 team survive, Fred Murphy of Houlton and Jasper Hardy who lives in Limerick. Eugene Williams was a casualty of General Patten’s sweep through Europe and died in France during World War II. Garald Wiggins, Darrell Barnes, Lawrence Brown, Roy Gartley, and Coach Stinson had passed away, with Stinson dying in 1977 at the age of 69.
Members of the 1932 squad also included Darrell Barnes, Ken Bossie, Don Graham, Don McCready, Amos McNutt, and Eugene Middleton.
Roy Gartley, who last lived in Gorham and died in 1992, wrote in a letter to Coach Stinson, just prior to the coach’s death in 1977, “This is the thing, just do your best and you will have nothing to be ashamed of. Win, lose or what have you, just give it your all. That is what you taught me in good old HHS.”