Franklin Park - Running the course

When Frederick Law Olmstead designed Franklin Park, it was as a rural escape for Boston's urban dwellers. Growth has surrounded the park with city, but the jewel of Boston's "Emerald Necklace" of the city park system still serves as an oasis for the pavement pounding runners of the city's colleges and universities.

Franklin Park has been the home to cross country for the better part of this century. From high school dual meets to over 80 years of New England collegiate championships and on to national and world events, fall at Franklin Park is cross country.

Today's lively scenes at Franklin Park belie the fact that just ten years earlier, collegiate cross country along with nine somewhat playable golf holes and schoolboy football provided the bulk of a year's visitors before the decade of reconstruction returned the park and golf course to its original grandeur. For years, collegiate races (and high school) were run over on the golf course side of the park. The traditional checkpoints at two and three miles may not have been precise, but splits were remembered year in and year out. "Root Hill", "Sidewalk Hill" and "The Gully" were landmarks whose locations and necessary race tactics at those spots were passed down class to class. A mixed course of the golf course and stadium side was used for three years, until the collegiate courses migrated its current location in 1992 with ample parking and spectator viewpoints.

The Men's New England Cross Country Championships, in fact, is the longest running event at the park. The meet itself turned 85 years old this year, and according to reliable sources it has run at the park continuously from 1912. In that period, the most prolific team winner is Providence College with 19 wins, including 10 in a row from 1974 to 1983. Maine with 15, and Rhode Island with 12 are the only other schools with more than six titles. Providence ran up the lowest team score ever in 1982, an incredible 17 points, which means all five scorers in the top six. Individually, only one runner, Robert Black of Rhode Island, has been able to win four times in four tries out of the blocks (1946-1949).The New England Women's championship turns 23 in 1997 with their eleventh appearance at Franklin Park (the first was in 1980). Like their male counterparts, Providence has the most team wins.

The course also serves as home turf for Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, M.I.T., Northeastern, and Bentley. Other meets have strong histories here as well. The Codfish Bowl was started over twenty-five years ago by Coach Bill Squires at Boston State College (now U.Mass-Boston) to give Division II and III schools the opportunity to compete on their own level.

All of the successful races at the park contributed to the bid and award of the IC4A / ECAC Cross country championship which served as the Division I NCAA Championship qualifier for regions 1 (New England) and 2 (North Atlantic) for three years.

The old course hosted the only NCAA meet ever held in Boston, the 1975 Division III Championship. Five miles of racing was decided by a lean at the finish, with the nod going to University of Lowell's Vin Fleming. Fleming had a definite home course advantage, having grown up just down the street in Jamaica Plain and having run for Catholic Memorial High School which trains and races here.


Keeping Cross Country Running at Franklin Park

The 1992 Worlds could have been the high point for cross country in many cities, with future activities returning to local levels. But the hill-and-dale sport is more than a passing fancy in New England, with over 200 races from high school dual meets to open championship events with an estimated10,000 runners from youth to masters annually traversing the sod each fall.

The direction for these programs is maintained by a trio of organizations. First and foremost, the City of Boston Parks and Recreation Department took the lead in developing the world class course, opening it to the running community, and committing resources to showcase cross country running as a major sport. The New England association of USA Track & Field has worked with this opprtunity to direct a fall cross country series. Tying all the organizations together is Boston Cross Country, Inc. (BCC), the nonprofit group originally founded to conduct the 1992 World Cross Country Championships. BCC promotes cross country running and helps maintain Franklin Park as a world caliber course through active sub-committees which oversee facility maintenance, sport development, and event promotion with goals that include:

These goals make the "family" aspect of cross country appealing to all levels of runners. Where else can a World Champion (Lynn Jennings) and a youth club from inner city Roxbury (the Boston Chargers, who walk several blocks to the park for meets) compete on the same fields on the same day and experience the same excitement?

The evolution of the Boston Mayor's Cup Cross Country Festival illustrates the continued growth and development of cross country in the region. Coach Bill Squires had led a small group of volunteers out to Franklin Park to conduct the initial Mayor's Cup Races with 9 finishers in 1990. The 1991 race christened the newly constructed course and previewed the national championship.

A series of developmental meets began in 1992 to lead up to the big event which eventually expanded to include three youth races and separate men's and women's races.

The Boston Mayor's Cup, which is also the USATF East Regional Association Championship Event for cross country, is now the preeminent open event on the east coast. That meet runs on the fourth Sunday of October and includes open and youth races.


The best in the world have run at Franklin Park

Kenya's John Ngugi won the 1992 I.A.A.F. World Cross Country Championships at Franklin Park, covering the 12 kilometers in 37:05. New Hampshire's Lynn Jennings won the women's title over a 5 kilometer course in 21:16. Both of these were on one-time multi-loop courses specially designed to run through and finish inside White Stadium. The 1992 World Championships had the most countries represented of any meet in the event's history. Olympic medalists Richard Chelimo of Kenya, Khalid Skah of Morocco, World 1/2 Marathon champion Vincent Rousseau of Belgium, and 1993 World Cross Country champion William Sigei of Kenya ran in the men's race, and the women's field included 1994 world champion Albertina Dias of Spain, former NCAA Champion, Olympic Medalist, and eventual World Champion Sonia O'Sullivan of Ireland and Pan American Games medalist Angela Chalmers of Canada among the top 25 finishers. Finally, 1992 Junior race silver medalist Haile Gebrasilasie went on to set a pair of phenominal world records in the 5000 and 10,000 meters in the past two years.