Jun. 28—The conversations continued deep into the afternoon Friday, with long-ago teammates reliving the competitive glory days that now reunited them nearly five decades later in the gazebo on the Village Green in downtown Bar Harbor.
Members of Mount Desert Island High School’s 1972 cross country team, which captured that school’s first state championship in any sport, were oblivious to the sometimes heavy rain that fell around them — perhaps just another example of the focus that enabled the Trojans to rise from last place at the 1971 Class B state meet to first place in a year.
As team members, some still living locally but others who came from as far away as England, San Francisco, Minnesota and New York City, gathered for the first time since an end-of-the-season pizza party 49 years ago, any lasting separation proved to be merely geographic.
“It felt a little like falling off a log,” said Larry Allen, a senior on the team who organized the reunion with teammate Brian Murphy. “We were only together for three months as a team that year and have had hundreds and hundreds of months of life since then, but we picked up right where we left off in terms of the chemistry. It wasn’t hard to reconnect.”
The world was a tumultuous place as the 1972-73 school year began at MDI High School, itself just four years old after the consolidation of schools in Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor.
The Vietnam War was raging — some of MDI’s cross country runners already had their draft cards — and President Nixon was seeking reelection. In early September, the Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany, were marred by an attack on the Israeli national team, which was taken hostage with two members killed by terrorists.
Back in Maine, the MDI cross country squad sought to build on its first state championship meet appearance 12 months earlier. Backed by a team soundtrack for the season that featured the Allman Brothers’ classic, “One Way Out,” the Trojans emerged as contenders.
An early loss at Orono and a one-point defeat to the University of Maine freshman team served as motivational tools for coach Howard Richard Jr., his varsity squad of Allen, classmate Doug Graves, juniors Murphy, Mark Carter, Eddie McFarland and Steve Davis and freshman Barry Fernald, as well as a deep junior varsity cast.
“As we figured out who we were and how good we were, Howie became more assured about what we might achieve,” Allen said. “I think maybe he knew it before we did, but we gradually came to realize it, too.”
MDI went on to post a 35-1 record against Maine high school competition, then scored convincing victories in the Hancock County, Penobscot Valley Conference and Eastern Maine Class B championships.
And when cast as a “darkhorse” for the state meet by a southern Maine publication, the Trojans raced to a lopsided 84-point victory over two-time defending champion Gorham — the first of MDI’s two straight state titles of its own.
The Trojans then finished eighth among 23 schools at the 1972 New England championships, with Murphy and Graves earning All-New England honors for their performances.
“These men are dear to me,” said Fernald, a Somesville native who traveled from his home in Somerset County, England, to attend the reunion. “In that very brief period in history when we came together and were running, it was a really magical time and a formative time.”
Not only has that championship season endured among its participants, it has served as the foundation for a strong distance-running tradition at the school.
MDI now has won 11 state championships and 19 regional crowns over the years, while distance events also played a role in the Trojans capturing this year’s Class B state crown in boys outdoor track.
“I never really thought about it before because I was living away and my attention was so far in other places that I never really kept up with the team,” said Murphy, who now resides in Northfield, Minnesota. “But I’m full of pride and enjoyment about it.”
Runners both past and present have benefited from training at different Acadia National Park venues, such as around Eagle Lake, on Sand Beach and along the park’s carriage roads.
“Howie was a seasonal park ranger and was trained as a geologist,” Allen said. “You’d get geology lessons during runs. He knew every tree and bush and shrub, he knew every piece of wildlife out there. He was our pied piper and we willingly, happily followed him every step of the way.”
Richard also was respected for his knowledge and humor.
“He showed us that the ordinary things are the important things,” Fernald said.
Originally planned as a 50-year anniversary gathering in 2022, the reunion was moved up after two team members were diagnosed with cancer during the past year.
“It took me a little while to track people down, a couple I hadn’t been in touch with, but most I had some contact with,” Allen said. “But there was never any hesitancy from anyone, everyone was ready to get together.”
Murphy, who learned of his cancer last December, said the opportunity to relive the ’72 season with his teammates not only was enjoyable in its own right, but therapeutic unlike any other available medicine.
“It’s been amazing, all the people that showed up, all the stories told and being reminded of so many things,” he said. “Someone had a nice phrase for it, ‘the almost 50th anniversary,’ and my spirits compared to this time last week when I was still close to my last chemo treatment, you can’t compare it.”