Nagy proud of distance running in Niles, area

BAZETTA

Les Nagy had a Sharpie in his hand, signing some T-shirts under the pavilion in the midst of the Trumbull County Fairgrounds as one of the honorees at this year’s The Legends cross country event.

The Niles High School legend was one of the nation’s fastest distance runners in 1970 — finishing top 10 in the country in the mile, 2-mile and 3-mile races. He even helped Villanova beat Oregon and the late Steve Prefontaine to win a NCAA cross country crown.

His time of 9:01 in the 2-mile is still the fastest by a Trumbull County runner and he clocked 9:34.7 to win the 1969 Ohio state cross country championship for Niles, a place where he went back to coach after his running days.

Nagy later became part of the Niles Police Department and now works as a bailiff in the Niles court system, but he recalls those days when the wind blew through his hair and his feet took him as long as his body allowed. That usually was a pretty far distance, unfortunately for his competition.

The 67-year-old Niles resident misses those days, filling his void with a bicycle. Not the same, but hard to go back with two replacement knees and back surgery.

“I miss the running days. It was a way of life,” Nagy said.

He sees Howland senior Vinny Mauri, who is running around 15:50 through three races this season, as someone who can break his Trumbull County 2-mile record. The Tigers distance runner is heading to Arizona State and looks to break the 2-mile mark this track season held by Nagy of 9:01. Mauri ran 9:04.59 to take second in Division I at last season’s state track and field meet in Columbus.

“I want him to break the record,” Nagy said. “That’s what it’s all about. I’ve had it long enough. He’s so good I want him to break it. It’s fantastic.”

Northeast Ohio, especially Trumbull County, has been one of the best distance areas among Ohio’s 88 counties. Maplewood and McDonald each have seven state titles, while there are a good amount of individual titles. Mauri could add to that list this fall and next spring in Columbus.

“We have a good running family in this area,” Nagy said. “That’s what running is, it’s a family. On that course you fight. Off that course, you’re shaking hands of congratulations to everybody. That’s what’s nice about cross country and track.”

Niles boys cross country has had one of its better seasons in quite a while, led by Micah Curry, who took 27th in Saturday’s Division II race. He has a shot to be the first Niles male runner since Chris Acs in 1999 to make it to the state meet. Hailey Zelinsky advance to state last season and hopes to repeat the feat in 2018.

Nagy will be there, just as he always have been for Niles.

He said Red Dragons distance coach Jim Fedor, who also coaches the boys track and field team, is being shortchanged by not having a track around Bo Rein Stadium.

Common sense would’ve said add an all-weather track when field turf was being installed and the stadium renovated, a project completed in 2013. Too much to ask?

The Niles boys 4×100-meter relay team has finished in the top eight in Division II in the past decade, while the Red Dragons sent an athlete to state cross country in 2017. What other Red Dragon sport can boast that feat? None.

“Every kid is important in the school, not just some certain sports,” Nagy said.

Unfortunately those words go on deaf ears.