The Leader of the Pack; Rick Black set the pace for a cross country title

As a sophomore, Black broke into the top 20 at the Class LL championships and pushed past a big field of upperclassmen to claim 13th at the state open. As a junior, Black captured the Class LL cross country title (15:27). In his senior season, Black won the Class LL race again, paring almost 30 seconds off his time (15:01) to claim back-to-back titles.

He finished in the top five at the state open in each of his last two seasons.

“I think what sometimes happens with runners is that you get into the off-season, and you kind of get lazy or lackadaisical after a good season,” Nakoneczny said. “He wasn’t like that. He just kept running. He trained, and he had a great attitude. He wanted to work, and he did it.”

Black said that he was surprised by his success, especially in his first season when he overtook runners that he had looked up to for years.

“One of the trickiest things to do is to beat people that are heroes for you,” he said. “It takes a certain mindset, and it’s as much mental as it is physical. You have to overcome the barrier, so that you can actually beat a person that you might have thought was untouchable before. That was my biggest challenge.”

Barriers never stopped Black. As a senior, he paced his teammates to Southington’s first and only team championship at the Class LL race. He continued into the state open, where he led them to the Blue Knights’ only cross country state title. When the dust had settled on his high school career, Black’s teams had earned an impressive 39-1 record in dual meets and finished as No. 1 in the state.

“People said that we were the best team in about 20 years. Our score was a 99, and that was unheard of at the time,” said Black. “It was a great team. In fact, I would argue that I wasn’t the best runner on the team. I ran the fastest, but there were some really talented guys on that team. There were a couple of them with more raw talent than I had.”

Black wasn’t done after graduation. The Southington harrier earned a scholarship to Northeastern University where he collected 12 varsity letters over his college career. An injury sidelined him as a sophomore, but Black made up that season in his fifth year at school to finish with four letters in cross country, indoor track, and outdoor track. In 1989, his team was devastated by injuries. Despite the challenge, he narrowly missed qualifying for his third national championship, missing the cutoff for the finals by less than one second.

“I had a good college career,” he said. “It wasn’t great. It wasn’t as good as I wanted, but I ran some good races. I ran some bad races, and I ran everything in between. It was a good experience. I finished my eligibility. It was pretty grueling, but I did it.”

With his long distance success in high school and college, it was no surprise that Black was selected to represent the town in the Southington Sports Hall of Fame. On Thursday, Nov. 8, he will be inducted in a ceremony at the Aqua Turf in Plantsville.

“I was kind of surprised. My first thought was that I wish my legs were in as good shape as the memories of the guys on the committee,” he said. “I hope that people respected me as a competitor. As an athlete, I gave it all I could. I would have always loved to have done better, but I put all that I had into it. I don’t have any regrets. I’m just amazed that people remember it.”

For tickets, contact Jim Verderame at (860) 628-7335.

To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@southingtonobserver.com.

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