Monday, November 12, 2018

V 8 N. 67 Essay on Coaching Cross Country by Paul O'Shea

How Coach Helped His Runner Get Off the Starting Line
By Putting a Knife To Her Throat
By Paul O’Shea

You know the old adage: those who can’t play a sport, coach.
As a runner, sports journalist, administrator and meet official over the years, I’ve
watched thousands of scantily clad youngsters chase each other over grass, track and
trail. One lovely September afternoon nineteen years ago, when I began coaching a high
school girls cross country team, I was confident I knew the rules.
Until my Oak Knoll Royals gathered at the starting line for their first race of the season in my
first race as their coach.
As the runners moved up to the starting line I heard the meet director shout:
“No hats, no watches, no jewelry.”
Fine, nothing my girls wore threatened their competitors, I thought. But as the other teams
began discarding the offending items, one of my runners pointed anxiously to the tightly knotted cord
around her neck.
“Like you, over there.”
The starter peered at my Lauren Curmi.
“What’s that on your neck?  Get it off.”
Lauren, an otherwise law-abiding daughter from a fine family, probably taking four AP
courses, volunteering at the local Senior Center, teaching English as a second language,
and a boon companion to her dog, had around her neck, a forbidden item, a waxed leather necklace.  
In New Jersey, where politicians are notable for their notoriety, my duplicitous fifteen-year-old
will commit a felony by starting the cross country race with that performance-enhancing device.  
Panic cauterizes Coach’s heart.
I rush to the starting line to remove the offending item,but my fumbling fingers fail the challenge.  
Earlier, at home, competitor Curmi decided she would look even more chic if she trimmed the edges
of the knot, improving an already model-like fuselage.  
So, as the warm afternoon lingers, the novice coach attempts to loosen the leather decoration,
but now he looks as if he himself had just journeyed five thousand meters.  
He can’t get the bloody thing unknotted.  
Looking on are 145 runners, their coaches, family members, and friends, transfixed.
“Anyone have a knife?”
After a few tense moments the implement is found.
Coach very, very carefully slips the jack knife’s blade between Lauren’s pulsing neck
and the proscribed jewelry.  As the knife edges forward, the athlete stands still as she
wisely determines her life may depend on it. Finally, standing watch, Lauren’s father
applauds as I slice through the cord. She’s ready to start, and the gun fires.  A few minutes
later we chase 145 teenagers around the course as Oak Knoll wins the Newark Academy
Invitational with 41 points. Lauren has been our TK runner, one of our top five.
Sadly, Lauren and Coach lost touch over the years.  Thinking back to her work ethic on
and off the cross country course, I can well imagine that today she is a tenured professor
of law at Berkeley, summers in Montreaux, and is short-listed for the Booker. And all
because Coach was steady in a pinch, though now he carefully studies the directions
when advanced technology enters the home.

My entry into the coaching corps began after I retired.
That summer of ’97, I began to think I could have a new way to keep close to the
sport I treasured for decades.  I knew Oak Knoll School in Summit, New Jersey had once
fielded track and cross country teams, but they fell away as interest dimmed.  So I
visited the school’s athletic director, and said I would be interested in resurrecting the
sport. Sure, he said, as long as you can persuade seven girls to join up.  We did better
than that. We brought fifteen girls and one rookie coach together.
One thing I learned from coaching a cross country team for the first time is that you don’t
have to master a lot of obscure rules.  The sport’s pretty basic.
Your girls walk up to the starting line, you caution them not to start before the gun sounds,
and please make their way around without threatening to sue the girl running next to them
because she planted an elbow in your ribs. And the athlete who detours the course as if she
were bee lining to the last supermarket parking space, will not amuse the crusty folks who
manage the race.  Running the full distance is not only sporting, it’s preferred. Finally, cross
the finish line, ideally without crawling on all fours, maintaining your poise. Before the
race, tell your team to relish the personal fulfillment that comes from completing the task
with honor.
Because the ability to perform depends on accumulating strength, much of the training
involves running miles.  But the coach’s art is mixing the right ingredients of mileage,
speed, repetitions and terrain.
Cross country scoring is simple.  The first five on the team count, and you add up their
finishing places. Like golf, low score wins. A perfect score in golf would be an improbable 18,
a hole-in-one every hole.  A perfect cross country score is 15, which recognizes that your
team’s scoring five finished in the first five positions. That achievement happens
infrequently, but Oak Knoll was perfect in a dual meet against a traditional rival.
There were any number of sad, funny, tense and elegiac moments.
I remember the day when one of my backbenchers—the lesser performing lasses-- was
running along in a race at Newark’s Warinanco Park.  A girl from another team passed
her, gave her an elbow. My harrier decided she’d had enough, stops running, and cries.
No coach’s rulebook prepares you for this.
And to underscore the limited power of the coach over his independent charges, Megan
McGinn was advised before starting her warm up, to lasso that unencumbered shoelace
so a mishap might be avoided.  She knew she’d get to it in due course, or was Megan
remembering the time she and her teammates played strip poker with a group of boy
runners at a summer running camp? Her mind on other things, perhaps, this race day she
turned an ankle in her warm-up and was listed on the results sheet as DNS.  Did-Not-Start.
Later that season she paid closer attention to her Nikes, and became the conference
One of our goals was for Oak Knoll to qualify for the Meet of Champions in November
at Holmdel Park, the Carnegie Hall of the state cross country landscape.  That would have
placed us among the top twenty or so teams in New Jersey, but we were never able to
qualify. I did have several runners who were outstanding: one qualified for the Meet of
Champions as a freshman.  
They, in turn, mostly felt that cross-country would be an entry on their college resume.  
They were well away from those athletes who wanted to establish themselves through
the sport, or even earn a college scholarship from running.
Also, the school’s better athletes went out for soccer in the fall.  We made do with some
dozen girls each year, a couple of “transfers” from other school teams when they were
downsized.  But no one gets booted off a cross-country team, even if we had to wait until
dark for her to finish a workout.
It’s a sport with great returns for those who train and compete. You get rewarded based
on your own contribution and the team gets rewarded. You don’t have to worry about
whether the coach will put you in the game. No bench, everybody’s on the first team.
You don’t need to be fast, just committed.  The honors and medals go to the strong, the
resolute. A good coach can help you get to your own finish line, a winner.
The sport, which began formally in England in the early nineteen hundreds, is well titled.  
Runners traverse the land, usually on grass, or trails, in parks or campuses. Often with
hills to provide additional tests.
  I loved coaching cross country.
Most of us enjoy the movies, and if you happen to like classic films as I do, perhaps you’ve
seen the best ballet movie of all time, The Red Shoes.
In that film there’s a very romantic scene with a young couple in the back of a horse-drawn
carriage on the shores of the French Riviera.  The moon sparkles on the water, the carriage
moves slowly along the road, their heads become one. He turns to her and whispers:
Will we ever be as happy as this again in our lives?
Flash forward to a real life transportation scene in the late 1990s.
A school van maintains pace with traffic on New Jersey’s Garden State Parkway.  In the
back a dozen Oak Knoll girls are singing Madonna’s Like a Prayer, at the top of their
Not the school’s alma mater, to be sure, but the team’s theme song.
Holy Madonna.  They’re on their way to a cross country meet. They’re fifteen, sixteen,
seventeen years old, intelligent, pretty and fit.  
Will they ever be as happy as this again in their lives?
Of course they will.  They are young women of promise, on their way to spectacular

Paul O’Shea is a lifelong participant in the track and field and running world as athlete, coach and
journalist.  After a career in corporate communications he coached a high school girls’ cross country
team and was a long-time contributor to Cross Country Journal and Athletics, the Canadian publication.
He now writes for Once Upon a Time in the Vest from his home in northern Virginia, and can be reached

Saturday, November 3, 2018

V8 N. 66 Brigadier Gen. Harry B. Liversedge, Olympian and Marine Corps General

Nov. 3, 2018

It has been a few weeks since last posting, and I have a couple of good stories to relate, but we are rapidly approaching Nov. 11, 2018, the hundredth anniversary since the Armistice in Europe ending WWI.  I've had a hero in mind to honor, not of that war but WWII.  We've posted stories in the past of men and women who were Olympians and who died fighting for their countries in both good and by some historians' definitions in bad causes.  Nevertheless those angels and scoundrels suffered the same fate answering their countries' demands on them and paying with their lives.  We honor those men and women this week and all weeks.

Olympians Who Died in War  Here is the link to that earlier post.

The man I wish to remember this year is different in that he did not die in combat.  Instead he led his troops to a victory.  That victory was Iwo Jima in the Pacific.  His battalion raised the flag on Mt. Suribachi.  He was not in command of the whole Iwo Jima operation, but he was on the ground leading his unit, the 28th Marines.  Not the safest place to be that month.

Harry Liversedge

I'm talking about Harry Liversedge.  Hardly a household word these days yet one who over the years proved himself tough as the proverbial keg of nails.  I've not found a picture of Harry Liversedge smiling.  He must have been a serious man going about serious business all his life.  

Born in Volcano, California, 70 miles east of Sacramento, in 1894.  Harry played football at Cal Berkeley, won the IC4A shot put in 1917, and joined the Marines that same year.    He participated in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp placing third behind two Finns.  This was the first time Americans did not win the shot. He got the shot out to about 46 feet, but from these pictures it is clear that he was not a behemoth as many of his contemporaries.   Liversedge also qualified for the 1924 games in Paris but did not participate. He died in 1951 and is buried near his birthplace in Pine Grove, CA.

Of note:  Liversedge may have played rugby against Eric Liddell when both were based in Tientsien, China in the 1920s, but it is not yet documented.  Here is a link to that part of Harry's history.
Liversedge, Rugby, China  Clik Here

Here follows a more detailed resume of Liversedge's career both athletic and military.

While attending the University of California at Berkeley Harry "The Horse" Liversedge won the shot put at the 1916 IC4A championships. His athletic career was interrupted when he joined the Marines in May, 1917 and this led to him becoming a career Marine Corpsman. He is best known as the General who led the Marine regiment that raised the flag on Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima.
In 1920, Liversedge finished third in the shot at the Antwerp Olympics and with two Finns taking the leading places this was the first time that an American did not win the event. In 1924 he was nominated as an alternate for the shot put but did not start.
Liversedge resumed his Marine career after the Olympics and achieved the rank of Brigadier General. In January 1942, Lt. Col. Liversedge was placed in command of the Second Battalion, Eighth Marines, and was promoted to colonel in May of that same year. From 5 July-29 August 1943, he led this Battalion as it landed on New Georgia Island in the Solomon Islands. For his efforts, Liversedge was awarded the Navy Cross.
In January 1944, he was transferred to the 5th Marine Division and assumed command of the 28th Marines, leading them ashore in the Iwo Jima campaign, for which he was awarded a Gold Star in lieu of his Second Navy Cross. (from Sports Reference)

Harry Liversedge: Cal's Most Heroic Olympian

HarryLiversedge shot put
Harry Liversedge putting the shot for Cal at the Pacific Coast Conference championship meet in 1916.
Note, this is one in a series about early Cal Olympians. Previous stories have been about Cal's first Olympian, Robert Edgren, and Cal's first Olympic swimmer, Ludy Langer.
Harry Bluett Liversedge was born on September 21, 1894 in the tiny gold mining town of Volcano, California, in Amador County. He enrolled at the University of California in 1914. This was in the era when Cal played rugby instead of football, and Liversedge immediately joined the rugby team. As a freshman, he was a starter on the 1914 rugby team, and played in the last rugby Big Game against Stanford. The following year Cal switched back to football, and Liversedge made the transition to the American game, playing on the offensive and defensive lines. The rugby players had a lot to learn about football, but Liversedge and his teammates were fortunate that beginning in 1916, they had the opportunity to learn from one of the best ever -- Cal's new head coach Andy Smith. (For more on the life and career of Andy Smith, click here.)
The 1915 Golden Bear football team standing under the goal post at old California Field on the Berkeley campus. Harry Liversedge is the tall player standing seventh from the left.
But it was in track that Harry Liversedge made his biggest mark. He was a standout in shot put, discus, and javelin. In 1916, he helped lead the Bears to the Pacific Coast Conference track and field championship. Cal beat out second-place Stanford 36 points to 31 points, with none of the other eight schools garnering more than 18 points. Cal's track athletes struggled, scoring only 7 points, but Liversedge and the other field athletes saved the day by racking up 29 points. Harry Liversedge finished second in shot put, and won the javelin event, with a throw that established a new conference record of 174 feet, 5 inches. The following year, 1917, Liversedge established a new national collegiate record in shot put.
Liversedge posing for a 1916 Blue & Gold Yearbook photograph at the "California Oval" -- the track at California Field.
1917 was also the year the United States entered World War I, leading Liversedge to leave Berkeley at the end of his junior year and enlist as a private in the United States Marine Corps. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in September 1918, and sent to France, arriving just before the war ended in November. When the United States Navy sent a group of athletes Antwerp, Belgium to participate in the 1920 Olympics, Liversedge was among them. He competed in shot put against two great Finnish athletes. Vin Porhola took the Gold Medal, with a throw of 14.81 meters, and Elmer Niklander just edged Liversedge out for the Silver with a throw of 14.155 meters, to Liversedge's throw of 14.15 meters. But Liversedge was pleased to bring home a Bronze Medal for the United States.
Liversedge decided to make his career in the Marines, and made steady but slow progress up the ranks, which was all that was possible in the tiny peacetime military which existed between the wars. He returned the the Bay Area in the mid-1920s when he was stationed at Mare Island in Vallejo for two years, and again from 1930 to 1932, when he was aide-de-camp of the Commanding General of the Marine's Department of the Pacific, in San Francisco. Among many other postings, Liversedge spent time in Haiti and two years in China. He continued his participation in sports, playing football on a Marine Corps team. While in China in the late 1920s, he was placed on detached duty to act as a boxing coach to the Third Marine Brigade and also participated in the International Track and Field Meet in Shanghai.
By the time the United States entered World War II in December 1941, Liversedge was a Lieutenant Colonel. He was promoted to full Colonel a few months later, taking command of the Third Marine Raider Battalion and, later, the newly organized First Marine Ranger Regiment. He led his regiment during the New Georgia campaign in the Solomon Islands in 1943, and was awarded his first Navy Cross for "gallantly leading his troops through dense jungle into combat against a fanatic enemy long experienced in jungle warfare, commanding the assault with cool and courageous determination."
Col. Harry Liversedge, during the New Georgia campaign.
In January 1944, he was transferred to the Fifth Marine Division, and given command of the 28th Marines, the unit ultimately chosen to lead the assault on the volcanic island of Iwo Jima in February 1945. It would become one of the most famous battles of the Pacific war, and the bloodiest battle in the history of the United States Marines. When the Marines first landed, they were pinned down on the open beach by deadly Japanese fire. When Liversedge and his second-in-command, Lt. Col. Robert Williams, landed twenty minutes after the first wave, they found their men burrowed into the volcanic beach sand, under heavy fire. Lt. Greeley Wells described the scene: "We were all loaded down with equipment, and the beach sand was volcanic and very hard to walk in. The artillery fire was getting pretty heavy at this point, there was machine-gun fire." Men were being killed all around him, "so it was obvious to me that we had to get out." Wells described what happened next:
About that time we were all lying together, just hordes of men -- the beach was literally covered with men -- and suddenly I saw Liversedge and Williams walk up the beach as if they were in the middle of a parade. Williams had his riding crop, which was slapping on the side of his leg, both of them were urging us on, saying, "Get up! Get up! Get off the damn beach!" It was an amazing thing. They walked the length of that dog-gone beach yelling at the men, and the Marines just did it -- they got up and started to move. Of course it jarred me as well, and I got up, and we got over the high ground. Suddenly we were in the middle of this damn battle and there were casualties like nothing you'd ever seen.
Iwo Jima - 5th Marines landing
Harry Liversedge's Marine regiment on the beach at Iwo Jima, minutes after the first landings on February 19, 1945. Mount Suribachi is in the background.
The Americans knew they had to take Mount Suribachi, the island's volcanic mountain and the only high ground. The Japanese had spent months fortifying it with heavy artillery protected by steel doors, and building a network of reinforced tunnels inside the inactive volcano. Tremendous fire rained down on the Americans from the mountain. Col. Liversedge was given the assignment of taking Mount Suribachi. And on February 23, 1945, a patrol of five Marines and one Navy corpsman, under Liversedge's command, made it to the top of the mountain. As Liversedge watched through his field glasses, his men raised an American flag. Joe Rosenthal's photograph of that moment is among the most famous ever taken.
Mount Suribachi, February 23, 1945.
While the sight of their flag flying on Mount Suribachi cheered the American soldiers, sailors and Marines tremendously, the fighting on Iwo Jima would continue for another 31 days. The Japanese entrenchments and network of tunnels allowed them to keep fighting, and their determination to fight to the death made the casualties on both sides appalling. In the end, 70,000 Americans fought on Iwo Jima. 6,821 were killed and 19,217 were wounded. Of the 22,060 Japanese defenders, 21,844 died, either in combat or by suicide, while only 216 eventually surrendered. Somehow Harry Liversedge emerged from the battle without a scratch. According to Captain (later Major General) Fred Haynes, he also emerged with the reputation as "one of the greatest combat commanders in the history of the United States Marine Corps." Another of Liversedge's young officers, Lt. John McLean, described him this way:
Liversedge was a superb field commander, greatly respected by his troops. Col. Liversedge was never bombastic or flamboyant -- no macho displays. He was self assured and quietly confident, born of his experiences as a successful commander in earlier Pacific battles. He enjoyed the complete respect and confidence of his troops. But there was more to him than that. The colonel had a sense of humanity and a deep regard for his men, which inspired all to perform to the best of their ability. . . . I venture to say that there was not a man in the 28th Regiment, from the highest-ranking officer to the lowest private, who would not gladly have followed Col. Liversedge to hell and back. And at Iwo Jima every one of them did.
Col. Harry Liversedge, left, and his executive officer, Lt. Col. Robert Williams, during the battle of Iwo Jima.
For his heroism at Iwo Jima, Liversedge was awarded his second Navy Cross, with the following citation:
The Navy Cross is presented to Harry Bluett Liversedge, Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism as Commanding Officer of the Twenty-Eighth Marines, Fifth Marine Division, in action against enemy Japanese forces on Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands, from 19 February to 27 March 1945. Landing on the fire-swept beaches twenty-two minutes after H-Hour, Colonel Liversedge gallantly led his men in the advance inland before executing a difficult turning maneuver to the south preparatory to launching the assault on Mount Suribachi. Under his inspiring leadership, his Regiment effected a partial seizure of a formidable Japanese position consisting of caves, pillboxes and blockhouses, until it was halted by intense enemy resistance which caused severe casualties. Braving the heavy fire, he traversed the front lines to reorganize his troops and, by his determination and aggressiveness, enabled his men to overrun the Japanese position by nightfall. By this fighting spirit and intrepid leadership, Colonel Liversedge contributed materially to the capture of Mount Suribachi, and his unwavering devotion to duty throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Following the war, Liversedge was promoted to Brigadier General. He spent some time stationed in Japan and Guam, and also at Camp Pendleton in California. In 1950, he was placed in charge of the Marine Corps Reserve. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack on November 25, 1951 at the age of 57, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In 1996 he was inducted into the University of California Athletic Hall of Fame.
Brigadier General Harry B. Liversedge, USMC

Plaque at Liversedge Field Camp LeJeune

Marine Rugby Team in Tientsien China in the 1920s
Harry is on the extreme right second row.

BGen Liversedge died at the National Naval Medical CenterBethesda, Maryland, on November 25, 1951. He is buried Pine Grove, California.
Awards & honors
His military awards include:

Navy Crossw/ 1 award starBronze StarNavy and Marine Corps Commendation MedalNavy Presidential Unit Citation w/ 1 service star
Marine Corps Expeditionary MedalWorld War I Victory Medal w/ France clasp & Maltese CrossYangtze Service MedalAmerican Defense Service Medal w/ Base clasp
American Campaign MedalAsiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 3 service starsWorld War II Victory MedalNavy Occupation Service Medal

V 8 N. 67 Essay on Coaching Cross Country by Paul O'Shea

How Coach Helped His Runner Get Off the Starting Line By Putting a Knife To Her Throat By Paul O’Shea You know the old ...