Sunday, July 20, 2008

1976 Gloucester Catholic Cross Country Team

1977 Gloucester Catholic Track Team, one of schools best, also coached by Ross

The 1970's were also the most diverse musical decade.

Free flying Dr J mirrored the 76 Rams Cross Country Team The 1976 Gloucester Catholic Cross Country Team coached by Browning Ross was best known for setting a school record of 19 victories (19-4). Looking back, the team matched the free wheeling era of the 70's and the ABA with Dr J perfectly-- besides the Afros (on white guys), the team went all over south jersey to run against anyone. It was the last year that Gloucester Catholic was unattached-- not yet in the Olympic Conference and the Running Rams traveled in Coach Ross's volkswagen van to run against the top teams in every conference in south jersey.
Browning Ross's first meet at Gloucester Catholic four years earlier gave no clue as to what was to come. The Olympian watched as 10 Paul VI runners crossed the finish line holding hands against his squad. Within 2 years his team had a winning record of 11-9 then the Rams became one of the elite teams in South Jersey.
The 1975 squad featuring senior Mark Worthington (who later ran for Villanova) junior Jack Heath and soph Mike Browloleit won 18 meets-- often running 3 races a week. The next year the teams 19 wins included victories against Haddonfield, Pennsgrove and Pennsville, Catholic League Champs St Joe's Prep, Paul VI, State Parochial C Champs St Augustine, Tri County Conference Champs Clayton Triton, Kingsway, Washington Township and other top teams.
The Running Rams often took the first 3 places behind Heath, Browoleit and Jim Plant, or at least 3 of the top four places, at one point reeling off 15 wins in a row.
Browning Ross would load the team into his volkswagen van on the way to a meet. Then with a quick look back to make sure his top 3 runners were on board Ross would say: "OK, we've got 7 guys, lets go!" Late arrivals would get there on there own-- and they usually weren't late again.
Ross always kept a light hearted reign on his free spirited team.
Senior Heath won 16 races and set four course records that season and became the schools first State Meet of Champions qualifier (in the first year at Holmdel) Juniors Mike Browoleit and Jim Plant followed closely, usually before the other teams top runner (all three runners were Annunciation of Bellmawr products as was Drew Desher the fifth runner and Rich Traub a frosh and the seventh man). Other runners on the Rams record breaking squad were Alan Cipolone, Joe Daly, Joe Gambogi, and Jim Connors (also Annunciation and Bellmawr).
The 76 team was a close knit bunch who expected to win and usually did. The team ran their meets at Stonybrook near the Gloucester County Y in Woodbury, and practiced in Gloucester and on various wooded trails that Browning would discover. (Then as now Gloucester Catholic does not have it's own fields.) In 1976 ponds freezed solid throughout the winter in south jersey. Many of the October and November meets were bitter cold. Temperatures for the Columbus Day meet at Clayton were 29 degrees.
Ross often greeted his victorious team with "You guys ran great... a little faster and you'll be running the times I ran in 3rd grade!" Before a race, Ross would often break the tension with: "OK good looking guys up front!" Of course he would then proceed to ask half a dozen of his runners to line up in the back. It got the desired laugh every time. While other coaches were making their runners nervous and tight with last minute instructions they couldn't follow; Ross was relaxing his team.
When asked by his runners why the team was racing so much Coach Ross laughed: "It's the Athletic Director, he thinks the cross country team is like the baseball team and can race every day! They'd schedule us for a double header if they could!" Ross made sure to protect his charges and ran them easy enough so no one got hurt all season. The Rams finished the season with a school victory mark that will never be broken (teams run far less meets today usually only against fellow conference division teams ) and a life long love for the sport and the quiet man that coached them. Note: Ross's 1977 track team featuring many of the same runners also became the first winning track team in the school's history.

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