NEW CARLISLE — It's been 43 years since the 1974 boys state cross country championship and Carey Pinkowski remembers it like it was yesterday.
Then again, it's a difficult race to forget.
It marked the only time that runners, in this case, Hammond's Pinkowski and Rudy Chapa, tied for the individual title, crossing in tandem. It was also the only time a team finished 1-2-3 and didn't win the meet, Portage caputring the title that the Wildcats seemed a lead-pipe cinch to bring back to Lake County.
"Hammond High had such a dominant team," Pinkowski, the 1973 and '74 state champ, said. "All the talk was about the disappointment of Hammond not winning it, but I think one piece that's been missed in history is how well-coached and disciplined a team Portage was.
"The job Portage did to figure us out. We ran them four, five times and it wasn't a problem, but they figured out what they needed to do, they did it and they beat us. They were the champs. They earned it. They were smart, patient and strategic. They waited for us and they got us at the right time. That's what cross country's all about."
Gallery: New Prairie Invitational cross country
Cross country teams from around the state gather for the 50th running of the New Prairie Invitational.
Photos by Kale Wilk, digital producer.
Pinkowski had the occasion to chat about the old days on a sun-kissed Saturday after ceremonies recognizing famous alums of the New Prairie Invitational on the 50th anniversary of the races.
"The houses weren't over there, the trees are bigger, the school is bigger. Everything's a little bigger," said Pinkowski, who hadn't been back to the campus since his senior year of high school. "We ran the regional in LaPorte, so coming here was a dress rehearsal. You got a chance to run against kids from Fort Wayne, that side of the state."
It didn't take Pinkowski, also the '74 New Prairie winner, long to regain those vibes as he arrived to the festival atmosphere of the invite with 107 schools and some 2,800 runners.amidst a rainbow of tents.
"The energy you see, the kids running, it's a lot of fun," Pinkowski said. "The event has such a great tradition. It's such an honor to be here. I always liked coming here."
The Hammond product knows a thing or two about big races, serving as the director of the Chicago Marathon. The network of athletes enables him to stay in contact with long-time friends like Chapa, with whom he will be forever linked.
"We had lunch a couple years," Pinkowski said. "We still talk. We message through (coach and former runner) Alberto Salazar and (American distance star) Galen Rupp. You see a lot of different people who come into and out of your life over the years."
Pinkowski was a part of a cavalcade of running celebrities recognized between the Class A and AA races. Others on hand were Jordan Chester (Boone Grove), Anna Weber (Michigan City), Celeste (Susnis) Robinson (Kankakee Valley), Kevin Higdon (Michigan City Elston), Brendan Smith (Chesterton), Anna Rohrer (Mishawaka) and James Martin (Carroll).
The invite is the biggest high school athletic event in the state of Indiana, and one of the largest cross country meets in the nation. Festivities included a flyover with a sign that captured the essence of the event, 50 Years of Mud, Sweat and Agony (Hill), New Prairie Cross Country.