By Kevin Eickman
On January 3, a pioneer in Milford High School athletics passed away, Mr. Joseph MacDonald. While he may not have been well known throughout the Milford community, he was instrumental in creating the Milford Cross Country program. In 1983, Harvey Kenton approached the Milford school board about introducing the program to the Buccaneers’ athletic lineup. The program was given the green light, all Milford needed was a coach.
When the search ended and the dust settled, Milford found their first coach in MacDonald. Milford knew it had acquired a quality coach, what it didn’t know was that it had an individual who would be instrumental in producing quality human beings over the next 15 years. While researching MacDonald, there were many words used to describe him, but there was one that kept popping up – integrity. Whoever I spoke with the conversation eventually came around to that word.
MacDonald demanded nothing less than an athlete’s best. They didn’t have to be the fastest runner, they didn’t have to be a champion, all they had to do was give it their all. “Coach MacDonald loved guys with heart. If you had the heart and love for the sport, he would coach you to the top of your potential,” Dave Hume, who started running for MacDonald in 1987, said. “He was a stickler for details. You were expected to be on time, give it your all, and most importantly, represent Milford in a way that made the community proud.”
For MacDonald running was a means to an end. Yes, he was building athletes, but more importantly, he was building citizens of the future. It was this belief that led to quality individuals who have gone on to successful careers, and also service.
Speaking with Delaware State Police Lieutenant Lance Skinner about MacDonald, he attributed where he is today directly to the lessons he learned while running cross country. “With Coach MacDonald the fact that he demanded so much of you might have seemed a bit harsh at the time. When I look back now all I can do is be grateful for the lessons I learned under him. It’s not just me, it was so many students that he developed into quality human beings, that is really what he was about.”
Chris Kenton was the program’s first runner. “It was kind of funny, I showed up and it was just me and him that first day. I really didn’t know what to expect, but we just got to work and began training. Luckily, we got a few more runners so I wasn’t all alone that first season, but from the beginning you knew that Joe was a no-nonsense individual.”
The 1986 team should have been state title winners, but a technicality cost the boys their championship. In the mind of Hume, it was just another lesson that MacDonald took with the dignity he always carried.
“There was nothing fun about losing that championship, we just made a technical mistake and we had to deal with it. There was no hanging of heads, we knew we had done our best just as Coach MacDonald had asked of us,” Hume said. “Like I said, it was always about the lesson for him, the lesson that day was a difficult one, but it was one that we handled together as a family.”
MacDonald coached for 15 years, producing a boys Henlopen Conference Championship in 1989 as well as an individual State title for Chris Ayers.
MacDonald also started the girls program who earned a state championship as well as a pair of conference titles under his leadership. While titles and meet wins are all nice, it will always come back to that one word – integrity. He had it and his mission in coaching was to instill that into everyone he mentored.
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