John Mundy was always a fast runner so when he began to attend newly opened Holy Ghost Prep in the early ‘60s, he wanted to go out for the track and field team.
Only problem was, HGP didn’t have one.
When he went to school officials about rounding up a coach to start a program, they smiled and said, “Why don’t you do it?’’
So guess what? He did. That’s right, created his own team from scratch, with himself leading the pack. Quite an accomplishment.
But wait, there’s more.
While later studying at West Chester University, he not only continued to run the Holy Ghost Prep team but also met with business leaders in his native Bristol about starting a high school meet right on Mill Street where he grew up.
More than a half-century later, the Mill Street Run will celebrate its 53rd anniversary on Saturday, Sept. 11 with some of the best runners from area schools.
Both the Firebird running programs and the Mill Street event owe their very existence to Mundy, who still has a role in both activities.
It’s a labor of love, one which he has no intention of giving up in the near future.
The decision to jump in and get the Holy Ghost Prep team underway is both fascinating and unique.
“Holy Ghost only had two sports – basketball and baseball – when I got there,’’ Mundy explained in a recent telephone conversation. “I was always a student of track and field. I would read every newspaper article I could find about track and field, how to do them and how to teach others. I had a small group of guys who were interested in working with me.’’
Mundy said HGP had a school “field day’’ in May. He kept talking to a physical education teacher named Bob Custer about how the event was run. Custer said, “why don’t you do it?’’
“He turned it over to me,’’ Mundy said. “So I ran in it but I also organized it. Everything began from that.’’
The Firebirds didn’t have a track for 31 years so they would practice in the school’s parking lot in Bensalem.
“I learned to do things and get things done without any money,’’ Mundy said. “Mr. Custer and Father Hanley, who was the principle/head master, just let me go and handle it.’’
Mundy ran the 880 (yards in those days) and the mile at West Chester, all the while coaching the HGP team.
After graduation, Mundy worked as a teacher and assistant principal in the Bensalem school district for 10 years, then served as head principal at Pen Ryn School for 20 years and wound up back at HGP in the development office for seven years. He finished his career as principal at St. Joseph’s the Worker School along with developing Holy Family Regional.
With Mundy at the controls of the running programs in the early ‘70s, HGP became an instant powerhouse, finishing first or second in Pennsylvania Catholic school competition four straight years, led by Nick Costantino (state mile champ) and J.R. McElwain (state 400/800 champ).
Current Holy Ghost Prep head coach Mike Meistering and John’s brother, Hugh, took over the program for John about 20 years ago but John remains active as an assistant.
As for Mill Street, the genesis for the race began with Mundy’s love for the sport.
“Running was my thing,’’ he reiterated. “I was always the fastest kid in the class in school. In seventh grade (Bristol sports legend) Chic D’Angelo timed us for three-quarters of a mile. I did it in four minutes, 10 seconds. He said, ‘wow, you should be a distance runner.’ I processed that and thought I’m the fastest kid here but not in the county or the eastern part of the state, so I added distance running (to training).’’
Mill Street has showcased some of the area’s finest cross country talent over the years.
“I envisioned how interesting it would be to have a high school race (on Mill Street) when I was watching a Christmas parade,’’ Mundy said. “The crowds were lining the street. I talked to the Bristol businessmen and they agreed to sponsor it. My mission statement was – before there were mission statements – to just have people come to Bristol for a positive racing experience.’’
And that it was.
“We started with a high school boys race and in a few years we developed a girls race,’’ Mundy said. “And then we developed the open race.’’
In many ways, Mill Street is the granddaddy of local races. It’s a source of pride for Mundy and his crew, which includes Tim Scanlin and Pat Mulhern, along with John’s daughter, Christine. In previous years, John’s late wife, Ann, was also quite supportive.
“I’m very proud and very grateful to the people who have helped me over the years,’’ Mundy said. Hugh Mundy and Meistering have also played leadership roles in the race’s success.
Many great running coaches have blessed Bucks County since the mid-20th century but none finer than Mundy. Here’s hoping for many more successful years ahead.
Saturday, Sept. 11
53rd Mill Street Run, open race at 8 a.m., high school races at 9:45, Bristol. Contact www.runsignup.com
9/11 Heroes Run 5K, 9 a.m., Feasterville. Contact www.9/11heroesrunfeastervillepa.itsyourrace.com