Men’s cross country celebrates 50th anniversary

The men’s cross country program turns 50 this year, and it’s an anniversary worth mentioning, according to coach Guy Murray.

The milestone offers an opportunity to link some of the program’s deep pool of past performers with individuals on this year's current squad, said Murray.

It also holds significance for an entirely different reason: It indicates that the program, which replaced football at the university in 1965, has survived to experience its half-century anniversary.

The founding of the team signified the start of a new era for sports at what was then the University of Detroit. The football team had been in existence – aside for five nonconsecutive years – since 1896.

In fact, according to “The University of Detroit 1877-1977: A Centennial History,” hundreds of students gathered to protest the cancellation of football on the same November day in which the university announced the cut for financial reason.

A lot of big names went through the football program, including Andy Farkas, originator of Farkas Eye Black, and Ted Marchibroda, who would go on to coach the NFL’s Baltimore Colts and Baltimore Ravens.

The same is now true for the cross country program, with has produced many big names, including Murray himself.

It plays a role in why coaching the 50th anniversary team has provided Murray with an extra source of connection to the program, adding meaning to the situation he’s been placed in as head man.

Murray’s always been in tune with his knowledge of the history of the program, and he knows his place in history is firmly entrenched at the university with numerous accolades, including being named to the all-conference team in 1986 – then the Midwestern Collegiate Conference (MCC) – and being the 1988 Dominick Taddonio award recipient, given on an annual basis to the UDM cross country MVP.

But in knowing so much history, Murray feels that he often dates himself with his current players.

“I’ve coached so many guys and know the older generation, so sometimes I talk and ask my players, ‘Don’t you know who I’m talking about,’ ” Murray said.

After winning the Horizon League championship last year for the first time in his head coaching career, Murray remains committed to the program where he made a name for himself nearly 30 years ago. 

This is the case although he never thought he would last in the business when he starting coaching at his alma mater as an assistant in 1989.

Murray realized that the “coaching thing” might be more of a full-time gig when he started looking for jobs after graduating with a computer science degree.

And now he enjoys coaching the likes of freshman Ben Kendell.

Kendell is one of the “studs” of the new era of cross country at UDM, with a Horizon League Co-Runner of the Week accolade already on his resume as a result of his efforts at the 28th annual Running Fit-Detroit Titan Invitational on Sept. 6.

Murray believes the experience Kendell had running in Italy for the last year and a half put him ahead of the typical freshman curve.

“He knows how to train already, which some high school kids don’t,” Murray said. “He seems to be a really good judge of knowing when to and how to save something in the tank for the second lap.”

With Kendell and sophomore Ryan Leahy, who made his 8k collegiate debut at the National Catholic championships at Notre Dame on Sept. 19, back in the fold, the team is starting to come together and be where it wants be after a fourth-place finish in the Running Fit Invitational and a sixth-place finish among 11 Division I participants in the Catholic championships, according to Murray.

This year’s running of the Running Fit Invitational reunited Murray with his former head coach Kevin Donnor, who is now the head man of the Bucknell Bison, who took first.

Donnor was the founding father of the race, which originally was a female-only event.

In fact, back then, many were about the university’s ability to host its own event for cross country.

Thus, the mark Donnor left on the men’s cross country program is still being felt to this day.

Both Donnor and his pupil Murray have played large roles in elevating the credibility of the program in its 50 years.