By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer
The Greater Syracuse Hall of Fame recently announced a new class of inductees, who will be honored on October 19 at an induction ceremony at Drumlins. The inductees of the class of 1998 include Jerry Riordan, the boys cross country and track coach at Henninger High School in Syracuse.
Many Syracusans remember Riordan as the coach who brought Christian Brothers Academy (CBA) to State prominence in the sixties and seventies, and as an outstanding athlete in his own right. I recently visited with Coach Riordan and chatted about running.
Riordan was born in Oriskany Falls, New York, in 1933. His family moved to Syracuse when he was 5 years old. He played football at Cathedral High School and graduated at the age of 16. After graduation, he worked on the railroad for a year, then joined the U.S. Air Force.
During the Korean War, Riordan served in Japan for one year where he started running for fitness. He competed in track meets between the armed services and ran his best 5K of 16:26 and best mile of 4:33.
Riordan joined Syracuse University in 1955 on the G.I. Bill. He ran cross-country under coach Bob Grieve. Riordan characterized his college running career as consistent, though not stellar. Riordan graduated in 1959 with a B.A. in Geography. He returned briefly to the railroad as a brakeman, before joining CBA in 1961 to teach earth science and to coach track.
At CBA, Riordan had an ally in Brother Basilian. A mathematics teacher, Brother "B" cleaned out his classes into cross country. As a result, CBA ran multiple teams in regional championships, including a complete team for each grade at many events.
Riordan's CBA runners won the Diocesan Championship in his first year of coaching, followed by 13 out of 14 City League championships. This local domination extended to winning the State Catholic Championship twice, and culminated in winning the Eastern States Championships in 1972.
While teaching during the academic year at CBA, Riordan furthered his own education by going summers to Boston College. In 1973, he earned a Masters of Science Teaching.
In 1982, Riordan joined Henninger High School where he teaches earth science and coaches the boys' track and cross country teams. His success at Henninger was almost immediate. His teams won three Section III cross country titles, and set numerous school and section records.
Riordan considers his coaching philosophy as an "adaptation of Ken Doherty's interpretation of Arthur Lydiard's methods." He seeks to transform a modest runner into a competitive racer, rather than focus on naturally gifted athletes. He credits Ken Bowerman's influence on bringing variety into his daily workouts.
In the early days, a typical week for Riordan's harriers included a mix of fartlek and distance running, hill bounding, and a 15-mile long run on the weekend. These athletes typically ran over 70 miles per week in training. His teams built strength and speed throughout the season, and reached their peak when it really mattered, at the championships.
At age 65, Riordan continues to run with his athletes six or seven miles a day. I commonly see him on crisp autumn days running past the University, followed at a distance by out-of-breath hopeful runners.
After a short road racing career that included running the Boston Marathon in 2:40:23, Riordan rarely competes locally. However, he maintains a fitness level that many runners envy. Last July, while visiting his children in California, he entered and won his age group at a 5K race in a time of 19:14.
Riordan considers his proudest accomplishment the fact that many of his former athletes continue to run and race. To name a few, Brendan Jackson, John Cico and Chick Kassouf followed Riordan's steps into coaching. Tom Homeyer, Larry Woods, Chris and Jeff Morganti are a few Riordan alumni who have dominated Central New York roads for many years.
My visit with Coach Riordan ended on a sad note. He informed me that he plans to retire from teaching at the end of this academic year. No doubt, in his retirement, he will continue to run and coach, and inspire many runners to live running to the fullest.
Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at email@example.com.