As we enter our first season without the unique-to-New Hampshire-XC-Track-and-Field voice of Tom McGrath, a couple coaches, one who happened to have the experience of Tom announcing her as an athlete and coach, have gracefully shared some thoughts and memories of the voice.
By Amy Sanborn – late 80s Oyster River runner; Londonderry Girls XC/Track Coach
As I approach the middle of August, another cross country season is about to begin, but for me this one will be different. Coaches and athletes in NH will come and go, but for the past 30 years there has been one constant in NH cross country and that is Tom McGrath. No matter what your team may be like; up and coming, defending champions, or a “building year” the voice that we hear at most of our largest meets will no longer be there. As an athlete in the 80’s, I would hear my name being called to receive my award at the Middle School State Meet by Tom. Running the Derryfield hills over my 4 years of high school with him calling my name as an athlete from “Oystah Rivah” in his unique style stills makes me smile. And then after 4 years of college running, I came back to coach in New Hampshire to the familiarity of Tom’s voice.
As an athlete, he was the man in the booth and on the stage handing out our medals. He was the one who seemed to know everything about every team and every athlete that was at the meet. As an adult, he was my friend, another dad. Every meet I would find him, get my hug and words of encouragement for my team. He would ask about specific individuals because he had such a love of the sport. He knew who I had and how we were doing that season. And when one of those close moments of cross country happened, when waiting for the results was excruciating, I would sneak up to the booth (or stage) to see him and he would give me a nod or smile; or shake his head if he knew it wasn’t what I wanted.
For the state of New Hampshire, he was a presence for cross country, indoor track and outdoor track. I don’t remember a big meet that he wasn’t at. He loved the sport, he loved the athletes and he loved the coaches. It is hard to imagine anyone giving the same dedication and love to this sport that is so often overshadowed. He will be greatly missed by many this fall, especially by me. When I go to pick up my meet packet at Manchester Invitational or Division 1 Championships, my heart will be heavy. I can only hope that he knew how special he was to New Hampshire and to me.
By Mike Smith – Mascenic Regional High School
As we begin this cross country season, I would like to recognize the passing of a man whose contributions to the sport often go unnoticed by the general public. Tom McGrath, the voice of New Hampshire Cross Country, will be missed by many. While many reading this may not know Tom by name, they unmistakably would recognize his voice and the special delivery to which he announced just about anything having to do with New Hampshire Cross Country and Track and Field. For the last forty years Tom has been prolific at various invitationals and state championships, keenly aware of the contenders in each of the division and throughout the State.
These are the things the general public knew about Tom. Never seeking the limelight and only there to insure that the performers got their due recognition, it was easy to go to a single meet or even a season not recognizing how involved Tom was with the state of cross country in New Hampshire.
Over my years in coaching I thankfully got to know Tom more than the average meet goer. Tom and I struck up a friendship when my men’s team started climbing the ranks in Division 3. Since then, whenever our paths crossed, Tom would inquire either about a particular athlete and how they were performing, who was up and coming, or how the team was looking in general. But probably some of the most memorable conversations centered around athletes that had already gone through the program and how they were faring in college and at life. It goes to show that his interest in the sport was not solely based on knowing what is going on in the state, but about the athletes that compete in this sport.
One of the most memorable moments I have of Tom is the 2006 New England meet at Ponaganset, RI, where my boys were competing. I was out on the course with Jacy Christiansen, then an eighth grader, there to watch her brothers compete. We were running around the course, trying to find good vantage points to watch the race and see the team come through. At one spot, close to 500 meters from the finish, Jacy leaned in to yell some encouragement to her brothers. An older man probably in his fifties screamed at her 5 inches from her face, mad that Jacy encroached on his viewing space. She turned, mortified, and jogged off while I laid into him good about the ferocity he had just aimed on a 13 year old girl. As I turned to walk off, steam still emitting from my ears, I practically ran smack dab into Tom.
As I prepared to apologize for losing my temper, maybe not presenting the best representation for our state, Tom leaned into me and said, in a voice none too quiet, “I would have smacked him for that.” We were just a year into being one of the teams to watch, and my profile was just starting to poke its head above water. It just struck me that the person that I felt was not just the voice of New Hampshire, but also the face had given me the green light to settle an interstate turf battle.
From that point on, Tom and I have had plenty of “colorful” conversations over the years. Whenever I arrive at a championship meet, he’d always give me some kind of crap about there not being an envelope for me, or they messed up my entries, or anything to give me a hard time. Sometimes it would be about the old times, his memories much older than mine. Sometimes it would be about the resurgence of a program or a coaching change. A lot of the time it was simply about the state of Cross Country in New Hampshire.
But he would also ask how the guys on the team were running, looking to recognize them as athletes to watch knowing we focus on running well come end of the season. He was never in short supply of words. He knew everybody who was anybody, and got to know those that would become somebody. As I contemplate his passing, all I can think of is how there were so many conversations started, but left unfinished as I attended to my coaching duties and him to his announcing duties. I would have loved to sit down and finish some of those conversations along with starting new ones. Tom surely will be missed by many this season and many more to come.