In Feb. 1961, the Aragon cross country team was created when the school was established. Throughout its 56-year history, the team has experienced a great amount of success.
The team was first coached by Ben McQuire, who was also the athletic director, department head of physical education and basketball coach. In 1963, because McQuire no longer wanted to coach cross country, Bill Daskarolis took over as head coach. Daskarolis went on to coach the team for over 50 years, retiring in 2016.
The 1960s cross country teams ran under much different conditions than the 21st-century teams. When Daskarolis first took over as coach, the team ran on dirt instead of a paved track.
“On rainy days, we had gopher holes and all that,” Daskarolis said. “You can’t believe what this place looked like back then and all the problems we had.”
Additionally, gender sterotypes and discrimination have impacted the team throughout its history. Although boys cross country began in 1961, girls cross country did not become a legitimate sport for another 11 years. Before 1972, all female sports in the Bay Area were part of the Girls Athletic Union.
“[The GAU] was pretty watered down because what they did was more like a club,” Daskarolis said. “They would practice four days a week … and they rarely went over an hour or so of practice. Whenever they competed with another school, they didn’t care who won or lost, they wanted everybody to play.”
But in 1972, Title IX, a portion of the United States Education Amendments of 1972, was passed, allowing equal educational and athletic opportunities in all schools. Title IX requires many schools that receive any form of federal funding to provide males and females with equal opportunities in athletics.
“That was a big move for women and girls in the United States, and that brought about girls cross country,” said head coach Frank Hunt.
Despite the early gender discrimination, the cross country team has accomplished amazing feats throughout its history. In 1977, the boys team won every division from freshman to varsity, with Mills being the only other school to ever accomplish that feat.
Aragon has also gone to the state championship twice in its history — once for boys and once for girls.
Between 1980 and 2012, the boys team won 16 PAL championships in all divisions, and the girls won eight. The team has also seen individual success with 14 boys and 10 girls participating in state qualifiers, all of whom ran in college.
The team had one of its best runners in the late 1990s in Nicole Portley. She qualified for state three years in a row, from 1995 to 1997, and finished second in state during one season.
In 2012, the boys team placed second in the state meet qualification race, albeit by a small margin. In cross country, points are awarded for the top five runners from each team, and in the event of a tie, the sixth runner’s score will be taken into account to determine which team places higher. That year, there was a three-way tie for second, but Aragon’s sixth runner, Landon Hart, was the fastest of the three, placing 30th, allowing Aragon to go to state that year. Ironically, Hart played golf and had no cross country experience before joining.
“He had never run cross country before,” Hunt said. “I saw him in a race and I said, ‘Why aren’t you running cross country?’”
Hart became a San Mateo Daily Journal Athlete of the Week in 2012 because of his impact on the race and his unique path to cross country.
Ryan McAuliffe, who was a freshman at the time, was also a member of the 2012 team that qualified for the state championships. McAuliffe made it to the state championships as an individual runner three years later in 2015.
“[McAuliffe’s three state appearances] is really an amazing accomplishment,” Hunt said. “It takes tremendous ability and good luck not to be injured [or] sick at the wrong time.”
All seven of the runners on the 2012 team went on to run in college as well.
Additionally, the girls cross country team went to the state championship for the first time in the 2015 season.
“We were young at that point and we were just fortunate,” Hunt said. “Everything went the way it was supposed to. We had good athletes, they worked hard [and] they liked each other.”
Junior Emma Madgic was a freshman at the time of the race, but was still the fastest runner on the team.
“It was such a great accomplishment because no Aragon girls team had ever made it before,” Madgic said. “[The team] all travelled together which made it a great bonding experience.”
Much of the successes of Aragon’s cross country program are accredited to the work of Daskarolis and Hunt. Recently, the rock next to the track was dedicated to Daskarolis and the shed to Hunt. Thanks to these two coaches and a myriad of exceptional runners, the Dons will continue to run for more championships.