National High School Cross Country Champion
Researched by Jim Carter
As a former student winner in a state cross country meet and cross-country coach for a number of years in “The County,” including a State Championship team, it was only natural for me to have an interest in Malcolm Dempsey, a National High School Cross Country Champion.
Mac Dempsey was an outstanding cross-country runner at PIHS during the 1940 and 41 seasons. He led them to the state championship in 1940 and captained the team in 1941. The ‘harriers’ were coached by Dana Wallace who joined the PIHS faculty in 1940, where he taught mathematics, coached track and cross country. This short, energetic and wiry coach trained with his young men in the rain, mud, snow, on good days and bad. Until 1940 PIHS runners were just also rans at most meets. Houlton High dominated the local and state cross-country scene during the 1930’s, winning the National High School crown in 1932.
After winning the “County Title” with an undefeated season in 1941, the Presque Isle harriers moved on to the State Meet held at Orono. The Wildcats compiled a record low team score of thirty-six. Mac Dempsey established a new course record at the meet which stamped him as probably the finest runner ever produced at Presque Isle High School. He knocked slightly more than nine seconds off the previous course record when he completed the 2.5 mile “muddy” course in 12 minutes, 11 seconds. He finished 250 yards ahead of his teammate, Billy Markee, who finished second. Old Town’s Sockebesin finished between Markee and Carl Hallett, the third member of Presque Isle’s big three. Lewellyn Smart and Harold Rediker finished 14th and 16th respectively for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats moved on to the New England Championship Meet held in Durham, New Hampshire. Five runners participated for Presque Isle: Dempsey, Markee, Hallett, Rediker and Smart. Dempsey, listed as the number one schoolboy harrier in the Pine Tree State, was one of the favorites heading into the New England Meet. He was a slightly built runner with great power in the piston-like movement of his legs.
Presque Isle finished third in the New England Meet behind Lasalle Academy of Providence, RI and Gardiner High School of Massachusetts. Dempsey finished fourth in the meet, logging a time of 13 minutes 30 seconds on the 2.6 mile course. The first four runners in the meet, including Dempsey, broke the course record. Carl Hallett finished 21st, Markee 26th, Lewellyn Smart 32nd, and Harold Rediker 76th. Goodell of Beverly, MA who finished third in the race and Dempsey each took a wrong road approximately one-half mile from the finish line. They were running neck and neck at the time for first place, but the lost time spent getting back to the right course was costly.
The National Interscholastic Cross Country race was held Thanksgiving Day at the Seton Hall College Campus Course in Orange, New Jersey, with over 400 runners participating. Dempsey covered the 2.8 mile course in a fast time of 14 minutes, 52 seconds to capture the National title. He was the first Aroostook boy to win the National Interscholastic championship, bringing his running career to a brilliant conclusion. Giberson, a former Caribou “hill and dale” star, came the closest to this honor when he finished second in 1932, the same year Houlton won the National Championship. He was the first Maine runner to win the race since Maurice Toothaker accomplished the feat in 1938. At the time many coaches marveled at Dempsey’s running ability and referred to him as one of the greatest “hill and dalers” in Maine history. The Presque Isle team finished fourth in the National Meet; Markee finished 14th, Hallett 16th, Smart 23rd, Shalek 37th.
Through their efforts the name of Presque Isle gained prominence in national sports circles. The team and their coach were honored by high school officials at a banquet held at the Northeastland Hotel.
Malcolm Dempsey was not only a fine athlete but was also a good student. He was a consistent honor student and very active in school activities. He was vice-president of the HI-Y club of which he was a member for three years, treasurer of the student council, member and past president of the FFA, Drama Club, basketball three years, track 3 years, varsity club three years, French Club vice- president. He ran cross country for three years and developed into one of the finest runners in the history of Presque Isle High School.