Retired IUP track coaches had lasting impact on county athletes
Indiana county natives who chose to compete in Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s cross country and track and field programs found success at the Division II level and dedicated coaches in Ed Fry and Bob “Doc” Raemore.
Fry and Raemore recently retired after four decades of coaching IUP track and field together. Fry also coached cross country programs since 1966, when he came to IUP to teach music.
“It was worth it,” said Fry of his many years guiding IUP athletes, “seeing them grow, seeing them lose, and then they got better. They matured …. We worked hard, but we had fun.”
Raemore, an Indiana dentist, started coaching at IUP in 1973. Together, they switched head and assistant coaching duties throughout their tenure except for the six years Brian Spickler returned to IUP to serve as head coach.
Spickler, an All-American decathlete in 1997 and 1998, said Fry and Raemore helped him achieve success by challenging him.
“I always remember Fry and Doc saying that if I would ever learn to relax and not be so hard on myself, my results would improve drastically,” Spickler said. “I then would reply, ‘Well, I’m just trying to not let you guys down.’ The level of respect I have for these guys is second to none.
“They are a huge part of the success I’ve had in my life. They both have very unique personalities that complement each other very well.”
Spickler, a 1998 alumnus and native of Boothwyn in eastern Pennsylvania, returned to IUP to coach in 2002.
“I left in 1998 and moved to Colorado to continue training and competing in track,” Spickler said. “During this time, I also coached at the University of Northern Colorado. I decided to come back after speaking with Fry in early 2002.”
Spickler left his coaching job in 2007 to pursue Olympic aspirations with the U.S. bobsled team.
Fry spent much of his early years as a coach establishing and building programs. At the same time, he and his wife, Elizabeth, raised two sons who have autism. She fully supported her husband’s time commitment to coaching in addition to his full-time schedule teaching music courses at IUP.
“He needed the diversion of coaching,” said Elizabeth Fry, a 1971 IUP alumna and voice major who met her husband at the university in 1967 when he served as her advisor. “I really felt that it saved his life to have coaching. I sang at wedding most weekends. That was my outlet.”
One local athlete who benefited from Fry’s commitment to coaching was Blairsville native Dan Cunkelman, who joined the IUP cross country team in the fall of 1974.
Before graduating the previous spring from Blairsville High School, Cunkelman competed on that school’s track team, but the district did not have a cross country program at the time.
At IUP, “I had to learn about the right kind of shoes for running, which I didn’t have in high school,” he said. “That made a big difference.”
Also, Fry introduced him to interval training, which usually meant running in the grass at Indiana’s Mack Park.
“Intervals are repetitive, long runs at a sustained high level with short rests,” Cunkelman noted. “Intervals became a love/hate relationship. They make you tired and sick, but they really get you into shape. I really needed the distance training, which I got on alternate days, but it’s the intervals that really built the anaerobic capacity needed to be a fast distance runner.”
Fry didn’t just coach. An avid runner and competitor for most of his life, Fry ran the doubles, mornings and afternoons, with his team.
Cunkelman didn’t make IUP’s traveling squad his first year, but he said, “I learned a lot about training, commitment, teamwork and respect for Coach Fry. I improved my five-mile time from about 30 minutes to under 28 minutes that first season.”
He continued training with the team through the winter and in spring track.
“I finally got a chance to run the mile at an invitational in West Virginia,” Cunkelman recalled. “I didn’t win but ran a pretty good time.”
After he placed and finally scored team points in a 3,000-meter steeplechase, Cunkelman “scored at states that year as a freshman and each year after that, including first place my senior year.”
Cunkelman, who serves as the technology coordinator at Blairsville High School, started the cross country program for boys and girls at Blairsville in 1987. The team is combined with Saltsburg High School. He also served several years coaching girls’ track and field at Blairsville and Saltsburg. He also officiates PIAA high school, USATF and college track and field meets.
First NCCA champ
Another Blairsville native, Dave Maudie, became IUP’s first NCAA national champion in field events when he won the javelin in 1987. Since reorganizing under the NCAA, IUP had only one other national champion — Tammy Donnelly, in the 10,000-meter run the year before.
“Coming out of high school, I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to in track and field,” Maudie recalled. “The harder I tried, the worse I threw. When it was all over, I felt like I let my coaches down and the team down. At IUP, I threw a lot just to find what worked for me.”
Maudie struggled through personal jitters, injuries and a change in the make of javelins that enhanced safety but restricted their flight. He had to retrain to throw the new javelin and had to work hard to hit consistently over 200 feet.
“I did a lot of damage to my elbow through trial and error,” he said. “I had ice and heat treatments all the time.
“When they changed the javelin, the release angle was different …. Nobody understood the difference, and we used the old techniques. Some caught on to it quicker than others. It really messed with your head.”
On the outset of his senior season, he contracted mononucleosis, which was serious enough to have been fatal.
“I lost 30 pounds and never got back to my strength and ability that season, Maudie said. “I made a commitment to myself: I would keep throwing and compete. The biggest thing I learned is no matter at what level you compete, you are competing against yourself.”
Maudie finished in the top 10 at the national Division II meet in javelin all four years of his collegiate career. He also earned All-American status in javelin twice, won a PSAC title with a throw of 228-3 in 1985 and finished his collegiate career as the 1987 NCAA Division II national championship with a throw of 216-8.
He was inducted into the IUP Sports Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.
Maudie, who resides in Cranberry Township, returned to track and field as a throwing coach two years ago at Seneca Valley High School. He said he learned success at IUP, where he was part of a tradition of experienced athletes influencing younger teammates.
“You pass along what you learn,” said Maudie. “Success breeds success, and failure breeds failure.”
In addition to coaching men’s programs, Fry helped initiate women’s track and field in 1978 and women’s cross country in 1979 at IUP.
“It was a women’s club sport first” said Dana Piccolini, an Indiana native and a 1981 IUP alumna who was recruited from an intramural cross country race to help form the women’s cross country club.
As the programs grew, so did the respect for IUP. It competed in the AIAW that included many more schools than the current NCAA divisions.
Just four years after being launched, the programs becoming varsity sports and were elevated to national prominence .IUP hosted the Eastern Regional Cross Country Meet for both men and women and the PSAC Track and Field Meet for both. In 1981, IUP hosted the Women’s Division II National Track and Field Meet.
“I didn’t realize at the time how big the meet was,” said Piccolini, who still resides in her hometown. “It was big.”
Piccolini said she became a distance runner under Fry’s guidance.
“I was a sprinter in high school,” she said. “When I got to college, everybody was good. Ed said, ‘You can be an OK sprinter or a great distance runner.’
She said Fry urged her to run cross country and, in the spring of her sophomore year, the 400-meter and 800-meter events. “Then he said, ‘Let’s just run you in the 1500 m and get you over that hump.’ The coaches could just look and see where you belonged.”
Fry and Raemore seemed to have a knack for convincing their young proteges that even lofty goals were not beyond reach.
“Coach believed in me,” said Sara Pickering, a 1985 Indiana Area High School graduate and a 1989 IUP alumna, who competed in cross country and track in high school and at IUP. “I qualified for nationals in the 10K all by myself. I didn’t think I could do it. He told me I could.”
Pickering received a lot of attention from Raemore, as she had known him since early childhood.
“I’ve known Doc since I was about six years old,” she said. “I think that was a gift. He had a hand in coaching me. He probably knew me better than I knew myself in some ways.”
Pickering, who now lives in Boulder, Colo., still is an active runner and competes in marathons.
Chris Wheeler, a teammate of Pickering’s in Indiana High’s cross country and track programs, was uncertain about joining the running programs when she enrolled at IUP.
“I came to IUP because I liked the familiarity,” said Wheeler, a 1986 Indiana graduate and a 1990 IUP alumna. “I knew other people that went through the program. I knew a lot of people at IUP. It was an automatic support system …. Everyone came together for a common goal.”
Wheeler, who was plagued with common runners’ injuries throughout her IUP career, stuck it out as Fry and Raemore encouraged her to stay with the teams despite her constant run of bad luck.
“I had injuries — stress fractures, hamstring tears, you name it, and those took me out of some competitions, ” Wheeler explained. “They helped me through all that. They just did above and beyond what you would expect. They wanted us to do well in school and adjust to everything, especially our first year.
“What stands out is the support on and off the track,” said Wheeler, who became an All-American in cross country. “They had an expectation for me, and I had to work hard to get there. They made me better to go another level up every year.”
Quite a record
Fry and Raemore coached 140 All-American performances in the men’s and women’s programs, more than 300 individual conference champions, 12 Division II champions and All-American decathlete Jim Wooding, a 1977 alumnus who competed in the 1984 Olympics.
Fry was named the PSAC Coach of the Year four times and five times was honored as the NCAA Division II East Region Coach of the Year. Raemore was named the 2007 NCAA Division II national and East Region Assistant Coach of the Year by the U.S. Track and Field Coaches Association.
Despite the individual successes, IUP’s track and field teams have not fared as strongly in the PSAC. The 1988 women’s track and field team was the only track team to win a PSAC team title. IUP’s cross country teams have the better record and have earned 12 team titles since 1972.
“Nobody liked to win more than Ed and I,” said Raemore. “But there is a trade-off of doing the right things for the kids and winning that championship. I don’t believe we ever concentrated on winning a conference meet. We tried to do our best.”
IUP teams often lacked the depth in numbers to even have a chance to rack up points.
“Some years, we would start out with 60 to 70 kids,” recalled Raemore. “Ed would have 20 or 30 in cross country. We’d end up with less than 30 who qualify to go to the conference meet. We never cut anybody on the team for performance.”
Rebecca Pounds, a 2001 IUP alumna who competed in cross country and track, said, “Coach Fry always had the most positive attitude and a smile on his face. He taught us a lot about hard work and determination.
“I think that this goes a lot further than just what it takes to succeed on the track. What I learned from Coach Fry were lessons that would help me throughout my life as well.”
Pounds, a native of Punxsutawney and graduate of Marion Center Area High School, also competed at nationals in the 5,000 m and 10,000 m during her sophomore year. Pounds said she gained a professional mentor in Raemore, as he provided her with an internship in his dental practice.
“I had decided prior to IUP that I wanted to be a dentist,” said Pounds, who owns a dental practice in Pittsburgh. “Being around Doc during my time at IUP really helped to solidify my decision to become a dentist.”