Story by Lon Tytell
A ‘Purple Ghost,’ which is any past runner of the Warwick Valley High School (WVHS) running program, was the theme of the documentary created by Henry Smith, owner and operator of HJS Studios, who was a former member of the boys’ cross country and track and field team from 1997 to 2001.
The documentary, “The Purple Wave: Forever a Ghost,” uses videos, interviews, and photos from coaches and friends of the boys’ cross country program to tell the story of the training, and competitive meets of the 2014 boys’ cross country team. The documentary also pays homage to the legendary coach Tim St. Lawrence, who started coaching the cross country program in 1974. He gave identity to the team calling it, ” The Purple Wave.” The boys’ cross country team had actually started in 1972 coached by Leslie Grigsby as a program to help condition the players on the basketball team. Don McKenzie coached the boys’ cross country team in 1973. Since the team was not called ” The Purple Wave” until 1974, the documentary states ” The Purple Wave” era began in 1974.
Smith made the documentary because the running program had such a positive effect on his life and he wanted to share the feeling of what it is like to be a runner and a part of the program.
“Although a challenging job of capturing 40 plus years into a documentary, it was a pleasure reconnecting with old runners, coaches and learning about new stories from the program,” said Smith.
The premiere of the documentary was shown on Thurs., May 25 at the WVHS auditorium because it worked around the schedule for the current team. Ten percent of all proceeds collected at the door were donated to the boys’ cross country program and an additional ten percent was distributed to the Brian Ahearn Children’ Fund.
“Tonight’s documentary was a creative genius of former Warwick Valley cross country runner, Henry Smith, who took us on a magic ride through the start of our teams and the glory of the purple singlet (jersey) of Warwick cross country…Henry captured the true spirit of athletic expression by those dedicated and loyal runners in purple. It proves that tradition is a powerful weapon,” said Coach Tim St. Lawrence.
Mike Potter and Curtis Akacki, former runners of the team, under Coach St. Lawrence, became the coaches of the team in 2007. The documentary follows the 2014 team from summer training to several of the competitive meets. Interviews from Coach Potter and Akacki, and several runners on the team revealed the dedication, pride, history and accomplishments of the team throughout the years.
All of the team members compete in the dual meets and Saturday Invitational’s. Only seven can run in sectionals, state and national competitions. The top five finishers count to the scoring of the team, so teamwork is stressed in cross country. The runners of the team wanted to carry on the tradition that included the team’s winning streak at dual meets, and their accomplishments at sectionals, state and national competitions.
Coaches Potter and Akacki motivate the runners through speeches and award a jersey to the runner who excels each week. Matt Adolph, runner from 2010 to 2016 said that he remembered the brotherhood within the team and the support of the running community such as parents and friends.
”Coach Potter and Akacki are an unbelievable coaching staff. They are some of the biggest motivators in my life,” said Matt Adolph.
David Soto, who was on the team from 2012 to 2016 said, “Running for Warwick was like no other program. It taught dedication and the importance of hard work. The friends I made on the team are like family to me.”
When Coach St. Lawrence began his first year coaching the boys’ cross country program in 1974, three runners showed up on the first day of practice. The number on the team increased to eight the first year, then grew to 24 the second year. The largest team had 85 members. St. Lawrence stressed the importance of summer training to prepare the athletics for the upcoming season. St. Lawrence, who was a pole vaulter at Suffern H.S., learned everything from his father who was his coach. His father was with him for 20 years on the sidelines when St. Lawrence was the boys’ cross country and track and field coach.
“Everyone on the team counted in my book. We had great fun. Dedication trumps talent,” said St. Lawrence, who was proud of the team’s accomplishments.
In the documentary, Wendy and Dave Paffenroth, and Joan Rueckert, who served as boys’ modified cross country team coaches, praised St. Lawrence for his enthusiasm, dedication, and positive attitude toward each of the runners on the team.
“Coach St. Lawrence cheered on every runner that competed and waited until the last kid came through the finish line,” said Wendy Paffenroth.