Over the years, consistency and excellence have clearly been trademarks of Pinkerton cross country, both for the girls and the boys teams.
There is an established tradition of competitiveness for both squads. If they’re not vying for a state title, of which they have each won nine, they’re certainly in the top half of the pack.
Traditions like these have to start somewhere. For the boys, a lot of it rests with current coach Mike Clark, who has been head man for 38 years and established “The Long Red Line.”
For the girls, it all started in 1975 with Pat (Nelson) Hicks, a name many have forgotten but who deserves credit for getting the winning ball rolling.
Boys cross country in New Hampshire began in the 1930s and really gathered steam in the 1940s, but the girls didn’t get started until 30 years later after the implementation of Title 9.
“The girls didn’t have much with sports until then (Title 9) and then we had more opportunities,” said the 66-year-old Hicks, who still teaches science at Pinkerton. “Pinkerton offered cross country for girls for the first time in 1975.
“I wanted to teach and coach and I was interested in becoming the (cross country) coach,” said Hicks. “I ran in high school and I was already coaching track so I applied.”
Hicks got the job, although it wasn’t hard because she was the only applicant. What was more difficult at first was the coaching. She was a sprinter back in high school, at Port Washington on Long Island, and knew virtually nothing about distance running.
“I was starting from scratch,” she said.
Fortunately, Hicks had a mentor in physical education teacher and boys coach Arthur Cross. He proved to be a valuable resource.
“I did a lot of reading (on distance running), but he (Cross) really taught me everything I needed to know,” said Hicks. “The first year, all the workouts were his. I would have been lost without him.”
But Hicks was a fast learner and, before long, she had the system down, pardon the pun, pat, And she soon established a New Hampshire powerhouse.
In seven years of coaching, Hicks led the Astros to four state titles, two New England titles (1978 and 1979) and three New England runners-up. Back then, the New England meet consisted of only New Hampshire, Vermont and Rhode Island, but it was still a tremendous accomplishment.
Hicks had a strong team with good depth, but it was led for several years by Cindy Collins, who became Pinkerton’s only individual New England champion in 1979. Behind her was a solid pack.
“We had some great girls who worked very hard,” said Hicks. “It was pretty unusual for girls to run then — they were like pioneers and I think they liked that.
“I never ran with the team — I don’t think a lot of coaches back then did — but I used to take my car around and meet the runners at certain spots. That seemed to work.
“At the end, I was pretty confident in what I was doing and I thought we had the program in good shape.”
And then, before turning 30, Hicks ended her coaching career.
“Coaching took a lot of time and I got married and had other priorities,” said Hicks. “It was getting more competitive and I wanted to get away from it.”
Looking back, Hicks feels proud of her somewhat short coaching stint.
“When I go in the field house and it shows all the championship teams, I feel good about it,” she said. “It (cross country) is a great sport and we have a great program. The girls who run are special athletes and special kids.
“I still follow the team and I congratulate the kids when they do well. Amy (Bernard) has done a great job with the program.”
Bernard has stepped down as head coach this year after 18 seasons, but she’ll still be assisting Jon Alizio and there’s no reason to believe that the Pinkerton girls program won’t continue to thrive and carry on a tradition started by Hicks.
Pinkerton girls cross country
Nine Division 1 state titles, including the last four
Three New England titles, the last in 2017
Qualified for New England 29 times, second to Manchester Central’s 30
One New England individual champ, Cindy Collins in 1979