Tiny little Haverford College, best known for producing intellectual types (Bethlehem Shoals!) and lesbians smarter than the rest of us, will attempt to win its sixth straight championship today in the super exciting sport of cross-country. The Black Squirrels are led by Tom Donnelly, a legend in the sport who has been bringing home championships to Delaware County for the better part of 34 years. Well, he's been winning them at least, but the grizzled coach opts to throw away all the trophies — a trend I believe other sports should adopt. His most infamous trophy disposal came in 2001 when he donated an award to the Mighty Mississippi river. But rivers don't always benefit from a new sunken treasure. Sometimes he just trashes them in boring places like trash cans.
“Usually in the garbage,” Donnelly said, explaining that the 2001 season happened to come to an end next to the Mississippi. “We ran terrible that day, so I wasn’t waiting. I blamed myself.” At Haverford and in the clubby track and cross-country culture nationwide, the trophy-in-the-river story has a place in the considerable Donnelly lore. It goes along with the 62 regional and conference championships, the 113 all-Americans and 24 individual N.C.A.A. champions in Donnelly’s 34-year tenure at Haverford, one of the nation’s smallest liberal-arts colleges.
Donnelly is extremely well respected in the cross-country world and could have left his little slice of Delaware County heaven to coach at almost any school in the nation. He decided to stay at Haverford where his motivation techniques haven't changed all that much over his three plus decades as coach. He sticks to the runners mantra that callus covered feet and bloody nipples are supposed to be fun. It's not like you're fighting for your life or anything.
“You may be really nervous about this race right now, but this is something we do for fun and it is not pressure. Nobody is shooting at you in battle. History gives us real examples of pressure. Go back to the Great Depression. Pressure is not having a job with five starving kids. This is a race. All you have to do is try your very best. Then you cannot lose.”
Indeed. But I think he's on to something with the trophy into the river thing. Just think of the entertainment value potential if professional sports teams took the idea and ran with it. Wouldn't it be amazing to see Papelbon toss a World Series trophy into the Charles? And Lord knows what kind of crazy stuff those wacky NHL guys could come up with to dispose of the Stanley Cup. Just something to think about. At Haverford, Tossing it All in the Name of Teaching