1965 solanco XC

The 1965 Solanco cross country team was the first in school history.

In 1965, when Lee Rhodes started the cross country program at Solanco, it was seen merely as an extension of track and field.

Over the decades, that view has changed dramatically at Solanco and elsewhere, as cross country for both boys and girls is an extremely competitive sport in its own right.

And at Solanco it’s been a highly successful one as well over the past half-century, with multiple league and district championships and two state girls’ titles, in 1990 and 1997.

In fact, in one long stretch during the 1990s, the Solanco girls went 177-0 under the direction of legendary coach Art Harrington.

Sept. 26, the Solanco Cross Country and Track & Field Alumni Association will host a banquet celebrating the program’s 50th anniversary, along with the 30th anniversary of Solanco girls’ cross country joining the Lancaster-Lebanon League.

Building a program from scratch

Rhodes, who coached at Solanco from 1965-67, said the boys’ cross country team was formed as a way “of getting distance runners ready” for track and field season.

“There were no 5k” races then, he said, and the cross country courses were shorter than today’s 3.1-mile length.

But there was a “lot of interest right away” in Solanco’s nascent program, Rhodes said.

In 1966, the team’s second season and first in the what was then the Lancaster County League, the Golden Mules went 5-5, with Jeff Derr earning fourth in the state meet.

The next year, the squad completed an undefeated dual meet season and placed second in districts. It was also the first Solanco team in any sport to qualify for states, finishing fifth.

Dr. Tom Regan, a Quarryville dentist, ran on those early teams.

“I always wanted to be a football hero,” he said, but when that didn’t work out, he took up track and field.

After Regan tried the high jump and the javelin, Rhodes — who also coached track — suggested he switch to the 880-yard race.

“It just resonated with me,” Regan said of running, which then led him to cross country.

The 1970s is when Solanco established itself as a force to be reckoned with.

That decade, under Art Harrington, produced a winning season every year, two District Three titles and three second-place finishes in states. Cliff Wimer also became the school’s first state cross country champion.

Harrington, a member of the Lancaster-Lebanon League Hall of Fame, “was a terrific coach,” Rhodes said.

Girls’ team added

He left to coach the sport in college after the 1979 season, but then returned to Solanco for a second run from 1984-1998.

A significant milestone that decade was the addition of the girls’ cross country squad, which debuted in 1984 and joined the L-L League in 1985.

Rhodes noted that 1984 also was the year the women’s marathon finally made it to the Summer Olympics.

For years, the belief had prevailed that girls and women were too ‘frail” and lacked the stamina for middle- and long-distance running.

Under Harrington, both the boys’ and girls’ teams posted winning records from 1984-89.

In 1987, the Solanco girls captured the first of many L-L League meet championships. Two years later, they qualified for states, placing ninth.

1990 began a run of eight consecutive undefeated seasons, culminating in eight league titles, six district championships and two state titles — the only team championships to date in the history of Solanco sports.

The girls’ program also recorded an astounding 177 straight wins.

And in 1991, Solanco was ranked 14th in the country by Harrier Magazine.

Suzie Spangler Hershey, a member of the 1990 state title team, said one key to their success was that she and her teammates really liked each “and had a lot of fun.”

Sisters Erin Peiffer Bair and Leah Peiffer Porritt were on the 1997 championship squad, with Bair a sophomore and Porritt a senior.

As children, they got involved in running when their mother suggested they do laps around the house as a way to tire them out at night, Bair said.

Soon, they calculated that 42 laps was a mile, she said.

In the 1997 state meet, Bair was eighth and Porritt, the team captain, finished 12th.

The girls in the cross country program took “great pride” in Solanco’s storied tradition, Porritt said.

Harrington’s boys’ teams were a combined 329-177, and his girls’ squads won 263 and lost only 15.

He said he was very fortunate to coach a number of special athletes.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” Harrington said. “I lucked out.”

Current Solanco cross country coach Craig Ausel knows more than luck was involved.

“Art is kind of a legend,” said. Ausel, who’s president of the Lancaster-Lebanon Cross Country Coaches Association.

Solanco’s success has continued into the 21st century, as the 2000 boys’ team went undefeated while ending Manheim Township’s 77-meet winning streak.

They captured the L-L League meet that year and finished third in districts. The Solanco boys also won the league title in 2002.

On the girls’ side, there was an undefeated season in 2004 and a league championship.

And in 2012, Ausel’s first season, the Solanco girls were undefeated once again, going 21-0.

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