Baranek: A fleet feat 25 years ago at Stagg

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Once upon a time, in 1989 to be exact, Stagg had a very good boys cross country team.

So good that the Chargers were ranked seventh in the nation.

So good that they were beaten by only one team all season, that being at the hands, or rather, feet of York at the Class AA state finals.

At Stagg, only the 1984 state champion Chargers wrestling team has a more impressive team trophy.

Talk about your glory days.

Friday night they had the chance to — thanks to the administration at Stagg, which threw quite a 25-year anniversary wingding for the boys of fall.

Coach Chris Stec and team members Jason Rush, Marty Bonick, Chris Vazzana, Joe Simone, Doug Nelson and Dave Eaton were taken for a tour of the school, given a pregame meal and then brought out before the homecoming crowd at halftime of Stagg’s 46-6 football victory over Joliet Central.

“It was a great evening, a great experience,” Rush said. “It was really cool to go back to my alma mater and see how the school has changed.”

The 1989 Chargers were a hurricane that had been building for a few years. The roots were planted in 1985 when Stec, a 1980 Stagg graduate, was hired as a cross country and track coach straight out of Eastern Illinois University.

Stec took over a program that was eight seasons removed since its one and only appearance at state.

“In the few years before they were down a little bit,” Stec said. “I just happened to get there at the right time, and we got a few kids who really bought into what I wanted to do.”

There weren’t a lot of them. The teams over the next five seasons were between 15 to 20 strong, all levels combined.

“I got into those guys’ heads that it was kind of ‘Us against them. Nobody thinks we can do this stuff,’ ” Stec said. “They really took off with it.”

The first year, the frosh-soph team won conference for the first time. The next year the same group of kids won the varsity conference title. In 1987 Stagg made it to state and finished 15th.

More success came in 1988, the Chargers winning conference, a regional, a sectional and finishing fourth at state, nine points away from a trophy. All this from a team that had everybody coming back for one more season.

They were a pretty wacky, but dedicated bunch in 1989, according to Rush.

“A major mover of it was Doug Nelson,” Rush remembered. “He was a year older than us, and he actually took second in the two-mile in 1988. Doug was just mean on the runs. He really wanted to hammer us. We used to call it ‘hammering.’

“We’d go on an eight-mile run almost every day, and we’d be real friendly on the way out. But when we’d turn around to come back it was on. Doug wanted to beat us all, and we’d literally chase him down Roberts Road, popping 5:30 miles. We did this on a daily basis.”

Each week a different runner would have a top time. Simone won the conference meet, Stagg landing seven in the top 10. Grant was the individual champ at the regional. At sectionals, Nelson was the titlist. Rush was the top Stagg finisher at state, earning fifth.

The team came up just short of York, which claimed its 19th title, but returned home heroes anyway.

A quarter-century later, they still are to Stec.

“In 30 years those are still the guys I’m closest with out of the hundreds that I’ve coached,” said Stec, who has been a teacher and coach at Barrington for 24 years. “It was a special experience.”

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