Last Word

Patron saint


by Stephen Masciocchi ’80

Last Word

 

From 1976 to 1979 the Gettysburg men’s cross country team was a small-college powerhouse. We compiled an aggregate dual meet record of 49–9, winning many meets by shutouts, and suffering most of our losses against Division I schools. We won the 22-school MAC conference championship twice and placed high at IC4A and NCAA regional and national meets. Several members of those teams have been inducted into Gettysburg College’s Hall of Athletic Honor, and two of the teams have been honored as a whole.

I was a member of those teams, and the bond we developed while pounding out daily 10- to 12-mile training runs lasts to this day. Many of us are still friends. We gathered for summer invitational track meets, and later, for annual alumni races where we and other G’burg cross-country alumni call ourselves the Angel Track Club.

But this is not a story about me or my teammates. It’s about our patron saint — my mom, Marcella. Each week, when we got to the starting line, she was there, whether that starting line was in Gettysburg or at some other venue in Pennsylvania, Maryland, or New York. She didn’t drive, so she had to work the phones every week to get a ride from one of my siblings or another teammate’s parent.

Though I grudgingly appreciated her presence, I barely tolerated it. College is not a time when you want to be followed around by your adoring parents. I made this all too clear, telling her how embarrassed I was when she would yell, “Go, son, go!” Yet she dutifully showed up each week, matching my disdain with her dogged loyalty.

Among other things, my mom was apparently responsible for our new uniforms. The story sounds almost apocryphal. At home meets we sometimes started the race on the track during the first quarter of a football game and finished on the track at halftime. At one such meet during my sophomore year, my mom was standing in the bleachers and cheering us on as we crossed the finish line. A man was standing beside her. As reported to me, their post-race conversation went like this:

Mom: “It’s great that they have these kids run during halftime, so people can actually see them run. Don’t you think it’s great?”

Man: “Yes, it is.”

Mom: “And look at those ragged uniforms. These kids look like the poor souls in purgatory. Don’t you think they should get these kids new uniforms?”

Man: (more tentatively): “Er, yes, yes, I see your point.”

When she sat down, another parent sitting behind her asked, “Do you know who that was, Marcella? That was President Glassick.” A friend of mine chimed in, “Boy, Mrs. Masciocchi, you were brave talking to the President like that.” My mom had been speaking with then-President of Gettysburg College, Charles Glassick. Not known for her political activism, my mom was mortified. But the next fall we got new uniforms.

What my teammates appreciated most, however, were her homemade Italian meals. Whenever our away-meet schedule took us near or through my home town of Hershey, Pa., my mom and aunt would put together a marvelous post-meet repast. We would cram into her little apartment and stuff our faces with Italian soups, pork roasts, pizza, pasta, cakes, and pies. Everything, of course, was made from scratch, including the pasta and the pizza dough. After several such meals, my teammates chipped in and sent her flowers.

The guys never forgot her. Years later, when the 1978 team was recognized at the annual Hall of Athletic Honor dinner, we returned to Gettysburg for the ceremony, and of course, I brought my mom with me. At the alumni meet that morning, the team greeted her like an honored hero (see picture). Later that evening, we reminisced with her about those incredible meals, though we didn’t need all those calories anymore.

In the past few years my mom ran a long-distance race of her own. She became severely anemic and needed regular blood transfusions. The transfusions were day-long ordeals, no fun for a woman in her 80’s who was also suffering from virtually every other malady afflicting the aged: arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure, to name just a few. She endured, trying to keep herself alive to see my nephew graduate from high school. But she didn’t quite make it to the finish line.

When she died in 2010, friends from many phases of my life trekked to Hershey to mourn her passing. My former teammates, Ed Vitt ’81 and Joe Guty ’81, came with their wives, and there was more reminiscing. She defined the word “loyalty,” and she had earned theirs.

In the fall, the crisp air, turning leaves, and freshly-mowed grass remind me of when I was younger, thinner, and better-conditioned. I can still see my mom watching me and a pack of other runners go once around the track, cross the field, and disappear into the woods. And now there is a new image. I can see her in the clouds, in the first row of stands at the celestial cross-country meet, watching the angels run.

Steve Masciocchi ’80 is an attorney in Denver, Colo. He can be reached at SMasciocchi@hollandhart.com.

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