Past and Present LHS Cross-Country Runners Invited to Bridging the Years Celebration

LACONIA — In what it is hoped will be a rebirth of interest in cross-country running at Laconia High School, both past and present members of LHS cross-country teams, men and women, are being invited to a Bridging the Years event at the Laconia Public Library on Friday, May 17, at 6:30 p.m.
Andy Mercer, Laconia High School cross-country coach, said that he is hoping that runners spanning several generations will show up for the event, which will feature the renaming of two awards that are presented each year to team members.
He said that the Most Valuable Player Award will be renamed the Larry Stinson Award in honor of Stinson, whom he called ''a superstar runner'' and was a star of the Laconia High School cross-country teams which took three consecutive Class M state titles from 1974 to 1976.
The award now called the Coaches Award will be renamed in honor of Tom Dowling, a long-time LHS cross-country coach who was a championship runner at Simonds High School in Warner in the 1960s. That award goes to the runner who meets the coaches criteria of dedication and improvement.
Mercer said that members of both the girls' and boys' teams will receive the newly-renamed awards.
Mercer said that a famous photo of Stinson, then a sophomore, crossing the finish line in a virtual dead heat with LHS freshman B.J. Fowler ran in Sports Illustrated in December 1974. Both finished with times of 13.10.36 with Fowler taking first.
But tragedy struck in December 1975 when Stinson was fatally wounded in a shooting.
A Kiwanis Club scholarship was established in his name, according to Russ Lagueux, now of Londonderry and a 1979 graduate of Laconia High School, who said that last fall, after witnessing the success of Laconia High School cross-country runner Samantha "Sami" Hicks, he became curious about whatever had happened to that award.
''When I found out that it was no longer awarded I got ahold of Tara Hickey (now Tara Cox) and talked to her about doing something to bring it back,'' says Lagueux, who says that he also talked with Laconia Public Library Librarian Randy Brough, who ran on the same cross-country teams with Stinson and Fowler that dominated Class L running, about putting together ad event for former runners.
''I was a good runner on a great team,'' says Lagueux, who recalls being recruited as a runner by Dowling, who taught English at Laconia High School.
''We used to run the mile in high school gym classes and when he saw my time he told me I should be running for his team. He really encouraged me and was a great coach,'' says Lagueux
He said that Dowling moved out-of-state after his Laconia years and died of a heart attack he suffered while running in the 1990s.
''We're hoping this event will bring some energy back to the idea of running cross-country in the Lakes Region,'' says Lagueux, who is hoping that it will result in the formation of a Boosters Club to help support the high school cross-county teams.
Mercer, who is a third grade teacher at Elm Street Elementary School, has been coaching cross-country for seven years at Laconia High School.
''There's a rich tradition in athletics in Laconia and people in the community are invested in seeing kids do well. There's a lot of competition for talent, especially girls, who have field hockey, volleyball, soccer and cheer-leading to chose from for fall sports. I'm hoping that the success which Sami Hicks has had and the promise shown by some young runners at the Laconia Middle School will get more kids interested in cross-country,'' says Mercer.
Mercer said that the event at the library will be catered by North Country Deli, which is owned by the Wernig family of Gilford, whose daughter Gretchen – now Gretchen Gandini – was a star cross-country runner at Gilford High School in the 1990s and is now executive director of the WOW Trail committee, which is building a rail trail through downtown Laconia.