1968 & 1969 NCAA College Division XC Champions
The building of Stevenson Tower in 1966 seems to mark a turning point in distance running at EIU. That year two runners, John Schneider and Roger Quinlan, gained All-American honors in cross country. They were the first harriers to be nationally decorated in Eastern's long athletic history. It was also the first year that the recruitment of legitimate "long distance" runners was taken seriously. Previously, cross country was looked at as a preparation for the track season in the spring, to which more emphasis was given. Although the Panthers had enjoyed considerable success over hill and dale, the teams were made up of mostly half-milers and milers, even sprinters, and never had much of an impact on the national level. In fact, one of the top performers on the 1949 squad was Jim Johnson, who was to set school records in the 220-yard and 440-yard dashes.
However, the recruitment campaign of 1966 brought in a sizable group of freshman long distance specialists. Four of them improved rapidly and became the team's top runners their sophomore year. Dike Stirrett, Marty McIntire, Larry Mayse and Jim Fehrenbacher weren't overly exceptional athletes in high school, but they were willing to pay the price for success, and together formed a competitive spirit unlike any seen on previous teams. These qualities were to be the basis of national success in 1968 and 1969. Coaches Pat O'Brien and Tom Woodall knew the motivation to work was there, so the training program was intensified, and with the addition of morning runs, weekly mileage soon exceeded 35 for the first time. More high school standouts were brought in and the team doubled in size.
In 1967 a metamorphisized Eastern posted a 8-2 dual meet record, and won the conference meet outright for the first time, with the top five going 2 through 6. The team also placed second at the Illinois state meet behind DePaul. The Panthers were on a roll. The next year, under the leadership of senior captain Virgil Hooe, Eastern posted an even better dual meet total of 9-1, losing only to Illinois. Two of those wins, against Loyola and Central Michigan, were perfect 15s, with a 17 against Bradley. But they again fell to the might of the Illini at the state meet. However, based on a strong win at conference (33 points) the Panthers were ranked as a top NCAA contender in the college division. Eastern was was now sending a full team to the NCAA championships for the first time.
The five-mile race held at Wheaton, IL, saw an impressive second place showing by Eastern led by an All-American performance from Mayse. But the Panthers were somewhat stomped on by the University of Nevada, who took home the title 56-119. However, months later, during the indoor track season, the NCAA determined that a number of Nevada's top indivduals were in fact ineligible. Most of their top dogs were were foriegners, and since it was an Olympic year, these athletes missed a lot of school in preparation for, and taking part in, the games at Mexico City. The title of champion was then turned over to Eastern. But no party broke out on campus by any means. Even though the Panthers could legitimately call themselves national champions, that couldn't erase the fact that they had been beaten.
There was going to be no question of who was the best in 1969, however, as the Panthers hit every practice with the intention of cleaning up their asterisked title in November. Their dual meet record was again outstanding at 10-2. This time they slammed home three perfect 15s against Harding College, Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, and had near-perfect 16s against Loyola and Bradley. But losses to Illinois and Illinois State, as well as another second place finish at the state meet, again to Illinois, kept their egos in line.
After a third-straight conference win, at the expense of Illinois State at home on the Lantz athletic field, the Panthers were ready to lay it down hard at nationals. There was to be no mistake made this time. Stirrett, McIntire, Mayse and Fehrenbacher, now seniors, especially wanted to go out in style. Younger veterans Ken Klipp, Jim Hackbarth from the 1968 national team and ever-improving sophomore Jim Skinner were right with them. The Panthers crushed the opposition over five miles of snow at Wheaton, and had nearly as large of a winning margin as Nevada the year before, placing four All-Americans, in bettering runner-up Eastern Michigan 84-146.
1968 335 runners, top 15 All-American
Larry Mayse 6th 25:37 All-American
Marty McIntire 17th 26:04
Dike Stirrett 27th 26:21
Virgil Hooe 40th 26:29
Jim Hackbarth 41st 26:29
Jim Fehrenbacher 75th 26:50
Ken Klipp 102nd 27:08
1969 416 runners, top 15 All-American
Marty McIntire 4th 25:17 All-American
Dike Stirrett 6th 25:32 All-American
Larry Mayse 11th 25:45 All-American
Jim Skinner 13th 25:49 All-American
Ken Klipp 60th 26:34
Jim Hackbarth 79th 26:43
Jim Fehrenbacher 116th 27:09