In 1975, the Granite City North Steelers boys’ cross country team accomplished some history when it became the first Granite City North cross country squad to qualify for the state meet.
Granite City High School was the first to qualify in the boys' race for the city, advancing to state in 1969 and 1970, finishing 24th and 25th respectively.
Then in 1985, the Granite City Warriors girls’ cross country team qualified for state for the third year in a row, making it the first and only GCHS cross country squad — boys or girls — to accomplish go three consecutive seasons.
On Saturday, the '75 and '85 teams will be honored in a special ceremony at the 42nd annual Granite City Invitational at Wilson Park.
“Two really, really awesome teams,” current Granite City cross country coach Richie Skirball said.
Skirball said several members from the 1975 GCHS North boys’ and the 1985 GCHS girls’ teams plan to attend the ceremony, including Mike Baker and Lora Wiser.
“What a perfect day to host the event and for them to come back,” Skirball said.
The varsity girls’ race begins at 8:30 a.m. and the varsity boys’ race starts at 9 a.m. Last year, the Granite City boys placed ninth and the girls finished 16th.
Junior Will O’Keefe is the top returning Granite City runner from last year’s meet. He finished eighth with a time of 15 minutes, 56.34 seconds. O’Keefe went on to qualify for the state meet for the first time.
“He’s focused and he’s a great leader,” Skirball said.
O’Keefe will lead a Granite City boys’ team that includes his brother, Andrew, who is a freshman; and juniors Kariem Ali and Leo Nikonowicz.
“We’re definitely looking forward to big things from those guys,” Skirball said.
In 2014, the Granite City boys’ team finished third in the Southwestern Conference meet and qualified for sectionals by placing third in the Belleville West Regional.
The Granite City girls’ team returns two of its top runners from last year’s sectional qualifying team — senior Kori Nesbit and sophomore Alyssa Comer.
Skirball said he has high hopes for Nesbit this fall.
“She is beginning more and more to grow and develop and she’s starting to get the attention of college coaches,” the Granite City coach said. “She’s been in contact with the coach from Greenville (College). McKendree has been in contact with her as well.”
Granite City has a total of 27 runners on both boys’ and girls’ cross country teams; 17 of them are freshmen and sophomores.
“It’s going to be a fun fall,” Skirball said. “It’s not as big number wise, but quality wise, we’ve got a great team.”
Forty years ago, Granite City North had a great boys’ cross country team that included Baker, Don Lucy, Greg Stout, Dave Ebrecht, John Bracamontes, Dave Futch and Robin Tegel.
The Steelers qualified for sectionals for the first time by placing second in regionals at SIUE and clinched a state berth a week later by winning the sectional championship by just three points at Lincoln Park in Springfield.
“I ended up having an hourlong phone conversation with Don Lucy one night and he was telling story after story with all of the things that went on with the 1975 team,” Skirball said.
Baker, who was then a sophomore, won the regional meet with a course record time of 15:31 and placed second in sectionals. Two years later, Baker became the first and only North runner to earn all-state honors when he finished 14th.
The Granite City North boys’ team went back to state in 1976. The school shut down its operations in 1983.
The Warriors’ girls’ cross country team competed in state from 1983 to 1985. In 1985, the Warriors won Madison County and Southwestern Conference championships, placed second in regionals and qualified for state by finishing second in sectionals at Springfield.
Wiser, who was then a senior, finished 16th at the state meet and is the only Granite City runner to earn all-state honors three straight years. She also finished 13th as a junior and 16th as a sophomore.
The other team members include Lisa Wiser, Sheila Noel, Melody Finn and Faye Patton.
No Granite City cross country team has qualified for state since the 1985 girls’ team. Pete Robinson and Dave McClain were the head coaches of the 1975 GCHS North boys’ and the 1985 GCHS girls’ teams, respectively.
Skirball said he came up with the idea of inviting the two teams at the Granite City Invitational during the summer.
“I wanted to kind of reach out to certain alum and kind of get them connected ever since I became part of the coaching staff eight or nine years ago,” said Skirball, who is in his fourth season as head cross country coach. “I always thought it was really important on connecting the current runners and the alumni. I thought it was really cool to what (former cross country coach) Tom Miller and my dad (Rich Skirball, Sr.) had done with creating the varsity/alumni challenge. I started reaching out and connecting with some guys and some gals who were part of the program’s past and getting them associated.”