Editor’s note: This is the 14th installment of our new series, “Remember When,” in which we revisit some of the memorable games, events, streaks and runs in high school spring sports we’ve covered over the last few decades.

READFIELD — By the late 1980s, Maranacook had already established itself as one of the more competitive track programs in Class C.

The boys program had already won two state titles  (1981, and 87) during the decade. The Maranacook girls had been even more successful, picking up Class C crowns in 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1989.

But after Class C runner-up finishes in 1988 and 1989, the Maranacook boys would pull off a three-peat — winning the crown in 1990, 1991 and 1992 — that would firmly establish the Black Bears as one of the premier programs in the state.

Former track athlete Chris Cowan — son of then co-coach Stan Cowan — said the program’s success was almost expected growing up in the area during the 80s and 90s.

“At that time, we expected to win every time we stepped on the track,” Cowan said. “We had been raised that way. The teams of the mid-to-late 80s, they won all the time. It was just expected. Track and cross country were the top sports to play at that time, because we didn’t have football. There was an expectation when we got off the bus that we were going to win, period.”

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“The tradition that had been built earlier to (the early 1990s), I don’t think they wanted to let anybody down,” former Maranacook co-coach Mike Boyman said. “There was a sense of pride that they wanted to continue the tradition of the way things were. When you win, it builds that kind of mentality, at least it used to, it builds that kind of mentality that the kids don’t want to be the team that falls off the mark.”

Indeed, it seemed the success of the boys track team went hand-in-hand with the success of the Maranacook cross country program — which won six consecutive Class B championships between 1990-1995. Stan Cowan, who was with the program from its beginning in 1976 until 1997, said runners from the cross country team helped give the Black Bears a solid middle-distance core, and plenty of depth come track season.

“That whole middle-distance and distance group, they all Nordic skied in the winter,” Cowan said. “And then they were out for spring track. We were very dominant and really confident in the number of kids who could score in all the middle-distance, distance events and the 4×400 relay.”

The winning didn’t come without work.

“The coaching staff was so talented,” Chris Cowan said. “At that time, we had our VO2 max (the amount of oxygen an athlete can utilize during exercise) figured out. No one was doing that at that time. I think Coach Boyman had developed that. And we had very targeted practices, they were very demanding, 800-meter step-downs. We had pretty much a year-round program for us to be doing distance running. Of course, the throwers were always lifting and things of that nature.”

“It was a lot of fun (at Maranacook),” Stan Cowan said. “At the high point in the 80s and the 90s, we had 20-25 percent of the student body on the track team, both boys and girls.”

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That work — and success — was not lost on opposing coaches, either.

“There’s a difference between a sport and a program when you talk about Maranacook,” former Wiscasset track coach Joe Murphy told the Kennebec Journal in a 1992 story. “At Maranacook, it’s a year-round program. They start them young and keep them interested.”

With a large team came large community support. Boyman was especially thankful for the large group of involved parents helping out at meets at that time.

“Our parents were absolutely unbelievable,” Boyman said. “We could put out the call that we had a home track meet, and we’d have more than enough parents (show up), our parents would basically run the meet. Some of them, having no idea about anything in track and field, would come down and go ‘I’ll do anything you need me to do.’ I think that in itself — in my 39 years at Maranacook — are part of the reason why the program was what it was.”

Matt Knox helped secure the 1990 Class C title at Cameron Stadium in Bangor. He won individual titles in the 400, 800 and long jump. He also was parr of the victorious 4×400 relay team with Chris Cowan, Seth Thornton and Michael Alessandro, which set a state record in the event with a time of 3:32.1.

“I was the slowest leg of it,” Chris Cowan said. “Frankly, I was scared to death, because you had Matt Knox, who won every time he walked on the track. You had Seth Thornton, same thing, won every time he stood on the track. Mike Alessandro, fantastic athlete, and then me as a freshman. I think I ran the slowest leg, a 53 or 54 (second) 400. My leg was kind of crucial, because our main rival was Orono High School. I knew I had to pull that leg out, because if I could hand the baton off to Knox, with any sort of lead, we were going to win. Nobody in the state — in any class — was going to beat Matt Knox. He was just that good.”

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“Back in the 1990 state meet, Knox went crazy,” Boyman added. “I think he ran a 50.7 (second) 400 meters, which has been our school record forever. He ran a 1:59 (time) in the 800 meters. Those two events in a state meet are pretty close together. And he anchored a 4×400 team… Those guys were just fantastic, that was a great team.”

The Black Bears finished with 89 team points, nearly 23 points higher than runner-up Orono.

Maranacook had an even more dominant win for the 1991 crown at Colby College in Waterville. The Black Bears had 70 points — 30 more than runner-up Foxcroft Academy — placing in nine events, winning three. Nat Woodruff won the 3,200-meter run, while Mike Cote won the pole vault and was part of a winning 4×100 relay team with Josh Gifford, Toby Regalado and Andy Taranko.

“Of the three state championships we’ve won since 1987, this is the most fun,” Stan Cowan told the Kennebec Journal after the event. “In ’87 we were loaded and last year’s team was probably the best in the history of the program. This year it’s a bunch of freshmen, sophomores and juniors. We graduated 14 boys from last year.”

If 1991 was the most fun, the 1992 Class C title was the cherry on top. A giant cherry.

The 4×400 team of Chris Cowan, Matt Knox, Michael Alessandro and Seth Thornton set a state record time of 3:32.1 in 1992, leading the Maranacook boys outdoor track and field team to a Class C title, the first of three consecutive state crowns. Contributed photo/Friends of Maranacook Cross Country/Track & Field

The Black Bears finished with 112 points — 50 points higher than runner-up Traip Academy — and won seven events. Woodruff would again pace Maranacook in the distance events, winning in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. Cote would go on to win the 300 hurdles and set a state record in the 100 hurdles with a time of 14.9 seconds.

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“(Any event) more than a lap, I didn’t like,” Cote said. “I didn’t even like a lap, to be honest with you. They would stick me in the 4×400 relay from time to time, and we were always pretty successful at it. But it was definitely not my favorite race.”

Troy Rau also earned a win in the 400, and the Black Bears also captured the 4×400 relay title.

“We definitely had a tight-knit group,” Cote said. “And it was pretty easy to rely on each other, because there was such depth in each event. I never concerned myself on what was going on in the 2-mile, because I knew our guys had it. And I think those guys never worried about the shorter events, because they knew we had it. We never worried about throwing. We were able to get points regularly.”

Maranacook nearly pulled off a four-peat in 1993, but finished runner-up behind champion Winthrop. It would be the beginning of an eventual three-peat for the Ramblers, who won again in 1994 and 1995.

And it still eats at Chris Cowan.

“It still pisses me off,” he said.

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“We really made up a lot of (points) in the running events, but we were just short on the field events that particular year.”

Stan Cowan and Boyman still remain in the high school track scene today. Cowan has worked as an assistant at York High School, which won Class B boys titles in 2012, 2015 and 2019 (as well as Class B girls titles in 2004, 2006 and 2016). Boyman is still with the Maranacook program, serving as an assistant, and 2021 will be his 40th year with the program.

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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