1957 Waterville High School Boys Cross-Country Team
Waterville High School’s Purple Panthers 1957 cross-country team was undefeated in 12 straight meets. Members of the team included seniors Captain Ted Sack, Wayne Fotter, and Wayne Cochrane; juniors Roger Jeans, Al Veilleux, Carl Cliché, Paul Pierce, and Bert Hawkins. Their coach was Clair Wood, their team manager was Francis Chase.
On November 9, 1957, the team traveled to Saxon River, Vermont, to participate in the New England Cross-Country Championship. The Panthers had a goal of finishing better than their fourth place in the championship the previous year at Colby College in Waterville. They had good reason to be optimistic, because the team consisted of seasoned runners who all had been on the squad the year before. They had won the Maine state meet three years in a row and had not lost the Kennebec Valley Conference (KVC) meet in six years. Hawkins had won the KVC in record time at Colby, besting the New England record set by Harold Hatch the year before. Hawkins also won the Maine state individual title by 100 yards ahead. The team won the Eastern Regional meet twice, the only two times they had been invited.
During the 1957 regular season, they turned back 16 high schools, two prep schools, and freshman teams from the University of Maine and Bowdoin College. Winning against these teams was particularly significant because the opponents were older and more experienced. Hawkins broke the record at the Bowdoin meet by over 12 seconds, a record that was
held by Deering High School of Portland runner David Rolfe. Another accomplishment of the team was winning the KVC with the lowest score ever, 19, a record yet to be broken. With all of these accomplishments behind them, the team felt they had a very real shot at finishing high among the top teams at the New England meet.
Prior to the start of the meet the team walked the course, a habit of most teams, to ensure that everybody knew the exact route. They were shocked to find a hill two miles into the course, and not an ordinary hill! It was the landing hill of an old ski jump. Having not practiced on hills at such an acute angle, the team wondered who had decided to incorporate such a monstrous hill into a championship meet. Nonetheless, they finished walking the race route, still a bit concerned about that hill. As it turned out, since no team had trained on hills that steep, it affected all the runners the same! The Panthers, with five runners finishing among the top 50 in a field of 161, compiled a score of 89 points to defeat 17 top schoolboy teams from the six New England states.
Several team members broke course records around the state during the championship and regular season meets. The following season Hawkins and Vielleux tied, to win the KVC and state titles! Some team members went on
to become track and field stars the following spring. Jeans became the KVC mile winner, setting a record. Hawkins was the KVC 440-yard and 880-yard winner and record holder, and state champion in the 880. Coach Clair Wood went on to become the Waterville High School principal, and later became the first president of Unity College.
Some of the boys were surprised by the attention given them in tribute for their accomplishments. First came a luncheon with Governor Ed Muskie at the Blaine House in Augusta. Then they were feted by the Waterville Elks Lodge. Waterville High School held an assembly in which all of the team members made short speeches and thanked all of the people that helped the team to succeed. And then, for the first time in school history, the ultimate honor took place: the cheerleaders made up a routine which included the name of each team member. All of the runners and the manager had successful adult careers, fueled by the discipline and hard work required to become New England champions. All are now enjoying well-earned retirements, filled with great memories to share with their children and grandchildren.