McDonald’s lone champ

In terms of the team competition, McDonald High School sets the standard for running excellence. The program boasts six team titles in its history (1982, ’83, ’99, 2001, ’04, ’11).

However, there is only one individual state champion.

Stuart Henderson, a junior at the time, was the prototypical distance runner. He had the ability to go out and conquer most courses in which he set foot.

“It was fun to watch him run,” said Barry Clute, who coached McDonald’s boys team until Chris Rupe took over in 1997. “He was such a smooth, fluid runner. He handled almost any condition, whether it was hills or whether it was flat land.”

The fleet-footed athlete won the 1989 Division III state cross country championship in a time of 15:37.9, edging out Chagrin Falls’ Andrew Rosette (15:41) at Scioto Downs.

“He had a world of talent,” said Lou Domitrovich, a 1991 McDonald graduate who ran with Henderson. “Stuart was thin, fit, in shape. He had the heart and mind for it. There’s a lot of people that run and race that have the heart to do it. There’s a lot of people that are smart that do it, but he had both. He could beat you mentally in a race. He could beat you physically in a race. He could beat you with his heart in a race. He had all of that going for him.”

After the season, Henderson won the Midwest Regional title in Wisconsin and advanced to San Diego, where he placed fifth in the Kinney Cross Country Championships in a time of 15:10.9, which is still a McDonald school record for a 5K race. It is also the fastest for any Trumbull County runner.

Henderson, who spent a year as an exchange student in Australia, didn’t come back for his senior season. Instead, he opted to get his GED and head to the University of Cincinnati, where he entered architecture school.

“Stu just had an amazing amount of natural ability,” said Rupe, who assisted Clute in 1989. “That was his forte and a lot of real mental toughness. I joked it was like programming a computer before the race, you just talk about this is what things are going to probably look like, this is where the challenges are going to come, be ready for this, do this kind of thing. He could do it.

“(McDonald boys coach) Barry Clute and I working together could pull some good things out of the kid.”

Henderson, who is a design architect in Sarasota, Fla., said his vision of the 1989 season became clearer as the season progressed – thanks to Clute and Rupe.

“I suspect they had a greater frame of reference by which they viewed my season in comparison to others,” said Henderson, 41. “My realization came into view when we began to work on the specific strategies for the actual race. It was part of a process of calculating competition, times, the course and weather, etc., as well as where I was in the season in terms of peaking.”

He started his run to state at districts.

“I remember being very calm as I stepped to the line and thinking to myself, ‘No one will beat me today but me,’ ” Henderson said. “I think that allowed me to feel capable of executing coach’s plan for the race completely as designed.”

Rupe, who was one of the best road racers in the state at the time, and Henderson used to run together during practice.

“I never saw a lot of the workouts because they were so far in front of us,” Domitrovich said. “We had a decent group of guys, but these guys were on a different planet.”

Domitrovich said current McDonald senior Bobby Johnson, who is one of the best Division III runners in the state, has dominated in 2013.

“Bobby is the same way, too,” Domitrovich said. “He works so hard in workouts. The kid works so hard, he’s out of this world.”

Henderson has some words of advice for Johnson before he races the D-III state meet Saturday afternoon at National Trail Raceway in Hebron.

“A few years ago I made the trip down to see McDonald compete in Columbus (Scioto Downs) and conveyed a Thomas Edison quote to the team that I feel was true for me and still holds true as an architect: ‘If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves,’ ” Henderson said. “That moment that he puts his toe to the line, breathes out and eyes his target awaiting the crack of the start, he knows that he is capable. His work is banked, his mind is right. Today is the day that he just needs to do the thing that he is capable of executing the plan.”

Henderson, who has coached cross country and been in road races over the years, was a talent for McDonald in 1989.

“It was his niche and he had some other guys around him that had fun with cross country, nobody to the level he was, so he stood out – heads and shoulders above the other guys,” Rupe said. “He was able to get to amazing, amazing times, just based on a heckuva lot of talent. He knew how to race.”