There are times when it seems all the cosmic tumblers fall into place to make extraordinary things happen, not unlike when tiny Ohio High School did a “Hoosiers” imitation and reached the 1A state championship in 1986, or when Rudy Ruettiger finally got on the field for Notre Dame.
Such was the case for the cross country runners of Woodland High School for a good stretch of the 1980s. Led by the three title-winning Maddux brothers, the Warriors coach and a talented friend from neighboring Cornell, that small stretch of rural highway produced four individual Class A state championships, 13 state medals and three top-five team finishes in a span of just eight years.
Quite a feat for the fleet of feet.
“The years have flown by,” said Troy Maddux, who won the first of his back-to-back state XC championships 35 years ago this fall. “It’s fond memories for us, for sure. We had an awful lot of success then and that’s what sticks in my mind, even to this day. Knowing the small town we were from, now I can look back at the bigger picture and realize all the bigger schools we were running against … It was a great time for us all.”
The area’s assault on history began in 1980 when Scott Daugherity raced to 20th place at state, then followed that up with a 24th place the following year.
Helping coach Rick Knuffman's WHS squad was an outstanding runner in his own right, Cornell's John Jacobson. Because his school had no cross country team, he would drive to Woodland and to train with the Warriors, giving them advice and another fast rabbit to chase.
Jacobson placed ninth at state in 1980, moved up to sixth the following year and in 1982 captured the first and only state championship in Cornell High School history. He later ran for the University of Illinois.
It was also that time that the Maddux family from Long Point (pop. 212) got involved.
Todd Maddux decided to go out for cross country in his junior year of '81-82 and the very next year, placed eighth at Detweiller behind title-winner and friend Jacobson. With the help of Troy Maddux, Woodland finished third as a team.
“Funny, but the thing that stands out in my mind was how very cold it was that day,” laughed Todd. “(Daugherity) really started the running tradition at Woodland, but my brothers were running and winning races even in their younger years. They took Woodland to another level after him.”
On that 1982-83 team as a freshman, the diminutive Troy turned a solid work ethic into a 10th-place medal. The following year, as a soph, he zoomed all the way to third. Only a few suspected what was in store for him and his younger brother, Scott, over the next four years.
At the 1984-85 meet in Peoria, Troy's time of 14:35.1 was easily the best in Class A and a time that would have been third in AA as the Warriors took third place. After winning the IHSA state track 3,200-meter run title the next spring for the first of two times, he returned to XC in 1985-86 to win a second straight XC title in his senior season. WHS was fifth as the team.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Coach Knuffman,” said Troy, who placed third in a national high school XC meet in California and later went on to run at the University of Wisconsin, where he helped the Badgers to an NCAA national cross country championship in 1988. “I did a lot of running on my own, but when it came to cross country, he was an integral part of the success I had, that we had as a team as well … So was John. It was great for all of us for him to set the bar for us to try and pass.”
Scott joined Troy at state in that latter year and placed fifth overall, setting himself up for a title run of his own. He claimed the A individual top medal in 1987, but he admits that the feel of the program was different without his older brothers around.
“It was a pretty cool time, certainly,” said Scott. “I wasn’t any part of building it up, but I did have a part in continuing it. Unfortunately, after I finished up, it pretty much died. In fact, my last two years, Woodland didn’t even have a team. It was just me. I was able to win one, but no one wanted to do it, which is sad, really.”
Troy, who at 5-8, 135 pounds now is only slightly larger than the 5-6, 115-pounder he was in high school, is married with three children and contractor in Chattanooga, Tenn. Scott is a tech advisor who is a married father-of-two living on Long Island, NY. Todd is a married father of two living in Portage, Mich. and a chemist for a pharmaceutical company.
“It’s been 20 years since the last state meet I saw as a spectator,” said Troy, “and while I don’t have many specific memories of when we ran there, I know it was not like any other race with the environment down there, all the people there at Detweiller and the whole situation, it gives you a little more anxiety but at the same time more incentive and motivation to put forth your best effort.
“It was a time and an experience we will never forget.”