Saturday, December 1, 2012

In Celebration of Walk-Ons

A very long time ago I hitched a ride from some high school buddies who were coming to State College early in the summer for some reason.  My goal was to see Coach Groves to ask him if I could walk on to the Cross Country Team at PSU.  I was just a couple weeks away from winning the Division B Two-Mile State Championship and had turned down several Division 3 coaches to run for them at smaller schools.  I had always planned to go to PSU anyway, with or without running.  I wouldn't turn 18 until half way through my Freshman year anyway, so I figured I had time to get a few more good runs in to impress Coach Groves, who I had only heard ominous murmurings about until that time!  I was unafraid however, and quite undaunted as I did get to see him at his office that day at Rec Hall.  It went well, with the admonition that I had better start increasing my mileage from the 70 or so a week I was running.  What was I getting into?

Things turned out well that first season, as I was the third Freshman on the team behind PSU greats Larry Mangan and Tom Rapp.  I actually fulfilled my career aspirations in the first two months of my PSU years.  Even though I only once more dabbled with actually scoring for our team in my Junior year, I was part of one of the best teams in the nation and made friends with some of the greatest people on Earth.  I strive daily to pay some of that back to PSU and all my friends and fellow alums with this blog and my efforts to support Clark Haley's Golf Tournament and the hopefully Annual Reunion we have helped create.

But I have a better story to tell, which I have only briefly alluded to before. I am responsible for the most identical twins in the history of PSU XC and Track!  No, I'm not their father, just their inspiration to talk to Coach Groves just as I did and ask to walk onto the team.

I was running an early morning run (Yes Coach, I really did run them every day for 3 1/2 years!) on the golf course one day,  I was on top of the world, flying past all of the joggers, scoffing at their measly efforts at the sport I loved.  On the return loop, I was climbing the hill parallel to Park Ave. where the tree roots always slowed me down a bit, and a gray clad runner flew past me.  It woke me up, but not nearly as much as the identical runner that again passed me just seconds later.  I couldn't tell them apart, and I probably still can't. 

I caught up to them with a little more effort than I wished and asked them who they were.  They weren't very talkative then or probably now, but I did get "Al and Jeff".  I told them right away that they should talk to Coach Groves, as I was sure they were what "walk-on" really meant.  I was delighted when at the next weeks practice there they were.  They both went on to have some really excellent runs for the Lions.  I will bet they don't even remember me telling them to talk to Coach, but the story is 100% certified accurate.  As Dave Barry would often say, "I'm not making this up!".

There are some other great Wolfe Stories out there, and maybe this will stimulate more of them.  They really are a great example of what walk on means, regardless as to whether anyone can tell them apart.


  1. The only way I could tell them apart was by their glasses. One wore rounder frames and other square of them must have changed frames in college!!

  2. One had a slightly lower-pitched voice than the other, but that obviously didn't help if you ran into just one of them. The glasses were the giveaway.

  3. On a cold weather run I noticed Jeff had a gray nose secondary to a childhood scare with frostbite. Or was that Al??

  4. One of the things I admire about Coach Groves is his willingness, even eagerness, to work with anyone willing to make a commitment to the sport. He got as much joy from the accomplishments of the guys he called his Back 40 as he did from the all-americas.

  5. Ran with the twins my freshman year as they were seniors. I actually was mistaken several times as their third twin. I had thinning light brown hair with the same wire rim glasses.

    Sat between then during CC Team Picture.

    B. Malchano

  6. Thinning? (Just kidding Bill!) We need that photo!!


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