Sift through the old scrapbooks of Kickapoo High School’s boys cross country teams of the mid-1990s, and you might be left in awe – even more so than if you happen to stroll by the trophy case at the Springfield school.
There’s one touting the 1993 team competing in the University of Kansas Invitational and placing third. Thumb your way deeper in the pile, and see the 1994 story about Kickapoo winning the prestigious Chili Pepper Festival in Fayetteville, Ark.? Dig deeper, and you will also run into this: Foot Locker ranking the 1995 Kickapoo team among the Super 25 nationally.
Put another way – what a run it was for the Chiefs harriers, who captured Class 4 state championships in 1993 and 1995 – and, in between, a third-place finish in 1994. In fact, their success is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the 1993-1995 Kickapoo High School Boys Cross Country Era with the Class of 2023.
“It feels great to receive this recognition since I’m convinced we really did train harder and were closer to each other than any other team out there of the era, besides maybe West Plains,” said Jura, a part of the 1993-1995 teams. “Coach Ewing also put in so much time and heart that I’m really glad to see his work and the teams recognized.”
Those teams were influenced by previous teams. The era was part of a 14-year stretch, 1984 to 1998, in which Kickapoo finished in the top 10 a dozen times. That included a fourth place in 1985, third-place in 1987, fifth in 1988 and fourth in 1991.
A member of some of those teams was Jeremy Goddard, now the current Kickapoo coach. He was a senior on the 1992 team and recruited a number of freshmen to join the cross country team that season. Those freshmen went on to elevate the program after the 1992 team didn’t qualify for state.
The 1993 team won state with a score of 61, besting tradition-rich West Plains (MSHOF 2018) by 15 points.
The 1993 team featured Shawn Hamilton, Bobby Hyde, Joel McCune, Jay Bob Esquivel, Jeremy Combs, Shaun McMaster and John Dexter. Hamilton, Hyde and McCune placed fourth, seventh and 11th, respectively.
“Qualifying for state as a team was one of our most important goals in 1993 so all of our work during the summer and through the season was centered on getting back to state as a team,” Ewing said.
West Plains had finished in the top three in 12 of the previous 14 years, with seven state titles. In fact, Ewing had competed for the West Plains program years before.
“Coach Ewing didn’t just give us direction but he, too, was running with us,” Combs said. “Coach Ewing would actually run to the school from his house to open the school for us before our 6 a.m. run. He was an example of hard work, integrity, and he illustrated such a commitment to us.”
The 1994 team came within 12 points of placing second. Esquivel and McCune placed 12th and 13th, respectively, and the team included Jura, McMaster, Combs, Brad Linnell and Andrae Wilberding.
“At the 1-mile mark, we had won the state meet. I didn’t do a good job preparing them for the first half of the race,” Ewing said, inferring the team peaked too soon. “West Plains, of course, was ready to take back their title. As Coach (Joe Bill) Dixon later told me, ‘We were ready if you dropped the ball.’ It’s always hard to repeat at that level because, not only are others focused on us, we tend to place that focus on ourselves as well.”
The 1995 team broke West Plains’ run of 16 consecutive district titles and then went on to win state with a score of 80, or 60 points better than second-place Jefferson City.
McCune, Combs and Esquivel finished fourth, seventh and 10th at the state meet, with the rest of the team featuring Jura, Bret Anderson, Riley Hamilton and Jon Thurman.
Doug Fredrick, a longtime soccer player, joined the team that season in hopes of parlaying his time into a college track & field scholarship.
That team reached a Top 10 national ranking by USA Today.
“Each time the USA Today results would be published, Coach Ewing would make copies and tape them to our lockers,” Fredrick said. “The week we found out we had cracked the top 10 was pretty awesome.”
Overall, what a special era.