By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T

The early favorite for the 2009 “quote of the year” comes from Mary Ellen Malloy.

A 1975 graduate of Cardinal O’Hara High School and the long-time CYO cross-country coordinator for the Archdiocese was discussing her favorite sport and how it is particularly unique in that you don’t have to be a talented runner to participate.

Malloy then offered a very thought-provoking comment.

“The better you are at cross-country, the less playing time you get,” she said. “What other sport can say that?”

Before tennis and golf enthusiasts clamor to make a similar claim, it is important to understand Malloy’s point.

“Whether you finish first or last, you are applauded for your effort,” she said. “Sometimes even more so when you finish last because all runners know how difficult it is for some to finish a long race.”

However, when a cross-country runner is competing with others to qualify at a national event, the flexibility of “playing time” is

not nearly as idealistic.

On Dec. 6, 115 cross-country runners from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia competed in the 2008 Cross Country Coaches’ National Youth Championships (ages 8 to 14) in suburban Cincinnati. They had survived the last cut at a meet one month earlier in Fenton, Del. Unfortunately, 100 other hopefuls were not as fortunate.

“It was open to everyone and that is what was most important,” said Malloy. “It was disappointing for some who weren’t able to qualify. But I don’t think that took anything away from how much they enjoyed running during the season.

“It’s absolutely wonderful that cross-country doesn’t usually turn into an ‘us versus them’ kind of thing. After the race is over, it’s like, ‘Great race. Wanna go get something to drink?'”

Malloy, the mother of three daughters and one son ranging in ages from 19 to 27, pointed out that over the years her children have kept in touch with many runners from other schools because of the camaraderie they established when coming together as one huge team representing the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

“It doesn’t matter where they go,” said Malloy. “There always seems to be someone they know.”

In Cincinnati, the Philadelphia contingent handled itself extremely well. The 11-12 boys took first place, as did the 9-10 girls and 8-and-under boys. The 11-12 girls placed second; the 13-14 boys and girls, third; and the 9-10 boys fourth.

Inspanidual highlights included 9-10 girls champion Olivia Sargent from St. Ignatius Parish in Yardley and 11-12 boys winner Sam Webb, also from St. Ignatius.

The party of more than 200 arrived in Cincinnati on a Friday to review the course, raced all day Saturday, worshipped at Mass together Saturday night and then came home on Sunday. They all stayed at the same hotel.

“Philadelphia CYO is known nationally as one of the biggest youth programs in the United States,” said Malloy. “As soon as we contacted the meet director, it was like, ‘How can we help you?'”

Malloy lauded the numerous adults who coach youngsters throughout the Archdiocese. While she describes the archdiocesan coaches as “selfless,” she admits that she derives significant pleasure in both coaching and directing the CYO.

She said she is not alone.

“There are a lot of wonderful people you meet year after year,” she said. “Of course you get some coaches who are a bit over the top, but that happens in every sport.

“The whole idea of coaching cross-country is to introduce these kids to a sport. When a third grader says he or she had a great time, we have done our job. It doesn’t matter whether the kids finished first or last.”

As Malloy might say, what other sport can make the same claim?

John Knebels can be reached at