Most great running races have a pivotal point in the course where leaders can separate from the pack while others begin to fade—iconic examples include the Boston Marathon’s daunting Heartbreak Hill, the climb up the Queensboro Bridge in the New York City Marathon and the grueling Cemetery Hill in Van Cortland Park’s famed 5K course.
While it may lack the flash and celebrity of these obstacles, Waveny’s FCIAC Cross Country Championship course has its own formidable entry that has earned near-mythical status here in New Canaan: Mosley Hill.
Located southeast of the main house, the hill stretches about a quarter mile from the edge of the woods right up to the house itself. The FCIAC Championship course—upon which scores of athletes will descend Monday, race day—has undergone several different incarnations since the race moved to Waveny in the 1980s. Even so, whatever route the runners have taken has always worked in the hill, named after the legendary coach of the New Canaan High School cross country and track teams, Bob Mosley.
In 33 years at the helm of the boys and girls cross country teams, Mosley won nine FCIAC titles and four state championships, impressive numbers made even more remarkable when considering New Canaan’s reputation as a “football town.” A huge part of the success had to do with Mosley’s innovation, according to longtime Wilton cross country coach Jim Gerweck, who ran for Mosley as a NCHS athlete in the early-’70s.
“He was as much like a teacher as he was a coach,” Gerweck told NewCanaanite.com. “We would meet in his classroom after school every day and he would have hand-typed, mimeographed handouts of all the results of the meets, years before computerized results existed. There would be an analysis of the results, intervals between the runners on the team. He would match it up with similar analyses of the other teams, almost like a scouting report.”
Mosley’s influence went beyond the x’s and 0’s of cross country, as his success fostered a culture of distance running in New Canaan that vaulted the high school program into unprecedented success. Stars such as Garry Baerman, John Foran, Pete Morrill and Mike Cotton along with Ann Karl on the girls’ side flourished under Mosley’s tutelage, lifting the Rams to four FCIAC titles in seven years from 1973 to 1979, and state championships in 1973 and 1978.
“There was a tradition being established in the early ’70s and it got to be really strong in the late ’70s when they had some really good teams,” Gerweck said. “I came back in 1977 and helped coach with him—it was the first coaching experience I ever had. The kids would just meet over summer at 5:30 p.m. at the track. It was kids who were still in school, guys in college who would come back and even some older guys in their 20s who were out of college. You always knew they’d be there and they would just go off and run.”
Mosley—who was a popular social studies teacher, and also coached indoor and outdoor track—retired from New Canaan High School in 1998, was inducted in the NCHS Sports Hall of Fame in 2012 and currently resides in Fairfield County.
New Canaan High School Athletic Director Jay Egan, who succeeded Mosley as cross country coach, said Mosley “laid the foundation for a very rich history of cross country athletes, both boys and girls.”
“When I took over the cross-country program, it was well established, with tremendous interest and we were competing—at that time, the girls especially were on a high note—year-in and year-out for the league championship, on both a team and individual level,” Egan said.
Egan, who was in the role for a full decade prior to becoming athletic director about 11 years ago, said Mosley was very patient, taking plenty of time to teach about scoring and to review the course itself.
The area of “Mosley Hill” was a focus of practices and Egan said the urban legend is that it developed as a core part of the championship course because that race used to be held at Wickham Park up in Manchester.
“That park is very hilly and there are two specific areas on that course that are long, extended hills, so Bob transferred what the kids would need to have experience in, and focused a key part of practice on that stretch of Waveny,” Egan said. “It’s the steepest hill in the park. So that’s how it became so integral in the training aspects of preparing for the state championship. He was using Waveny to replicate what the kids would need to do when they got up to Wickham Park.”
Though plans are not yet fully formed, Egan said he fully supported efforts now underway to commemorate Mosley’s huge contribution to cross country in New Canaan.
“I would like to do whatever we can as far as honoring Bob and his legacy here in New Canaan,” Egan said.
The Park & Recreation Commission at its Oct. 8 meeting began discussing what may be done perhaps to mark “Mosley Hill” in Waveny—an effort supported in concept by Recreation Director Steve Benko as well as commissioner Jason Milligan, the pair said at the meeting, though no formal proposal has yet emerged.
For the time being, the unofficially-named hill will continue to impact all who traverse it, and will undoubtedly play a factor in this afternoon’s events, which kick off at 2:15pm with the freshman races and varsity and JV competition to immediately follow.
“The hill is truly a make-it-or-break-it part of the race,” former Rams cross country captain Reed Bratches said. “People feeling good coming into the hill aren’t necessarily feeling good coming out of it.”
Bratches–a 2009 NCHS grad and two-time All-FCIAC cross country honoree–still owns the course record for New Canaan runners. And although he never ran for Mosley, the former coach’s name is forever etched in his mind.
“We would just refer to the hill as ‘Mosley,’ and it’s a beast,” Bratches said. “I still remember it now, coming up and swinging around. You want to veer to the right, but you have to come up to the left. If you go too slow you lose too much ground. If you go too fast you’re gassed for the rest of the race. It is arguably the most pivotal point of the race.”
—Michael Dinan contributed to this article.