Mac Dempsey

National High School Cross Country Champion

Malcolm Dempsey


Researched by Jim Carter


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As a former student winner in a state cross country meet​​ and cross-country​​ coach​​ for a number of years in “The County,” including​​ a State Championship team,​​ it was only natural for me to have an interest in​​ Malcolm​​ Dempsey,​​ a National High School Cross Country Champion.


Mac Dempsey was an outstanding cross-country runner at PIHS during the 1940 and 41 seasons. ​​ He led them to the state championship in 1940 and captained the team in 1941. ​​ The ‘harriers’ were coached by Dana Wallace who​​ joined​​ the PIHS faculty in​​ 1940, where he​​ taught mathematics, coached track and cross country.​​ This short, energetic and wiry coach​​ trained with his young men in the rain, mud, snow,​​ on​​ good days and bad.​​  ​​​​ Until 1940 PIHS runners​​ were just also rans at most meets. ​​ Houlton High dominated the local and state cross-country scene during the 1930’s, winning​​ the National High School crown in 1932.


After winning the “County Title”​​ with​​ an undefeated season​​ in 1941,​​ the Presque Isle harriers moved on to the State Meet​​ held at Orono. ​​ The Wildcats compiled a record low team score of​​ thirty-six. ​​​​ Mac Dempsey established a new course record at the meet which stamped him as probably the finest runner ever produced at Presque Isle High School. ​​ He knocked slightly more than nine seconds off​​ the previous course record when he completed the 2.5 mile​​ “muddy”​​ course in 12 minutes,​​ 11 seconds. ​​ He finished 250 yards ahead of​​ his teammate,​​ Billy Markee,​​ who finished second. ​​ Old Town’s Sockebesin finished between Markee and Carl Hallett,​​ the third member of Presque Isle’s big three. ​​ Lewellyn Smart and Harold Rediker finished 14th​​ and 16th​​ respectively for the Wildcats.


The​​ Wildcats​​ moved on to the New England Championship Meet held in Durham, New Hampshire. ​​​​ Five runners participated​​ for Presque Isle:​​ Dempsey, Markee, Hallett, Rediker and Smart. ​​ Dempsey,​​ listed as the number one schoolboy harrier in the Pine Tree State, was one​​ of the favorites heading into the New England Meet. ​​ He​​ was a slightly built runner​​ with​​ great power in the​​ piston-like movement​​ of​​ his legs.


Presque Isle finished third in the New England Meet behind Lasalle Academy of Providence,​​ RI and​​ Gardiner High School of​​ Massachusetts. ​​ Dempsey finished fourth in the meet,​​ logging a time of 13 minutes 30 seconds on the 2.6​​ mile course. ​​ The first four runners in the meet,​​ including Dempsey,​​ broke the course record. ​​ Carl Hallett finished 21st, Markee 26th, Lewellyn Smart 32nd, and Harold Rediker 76th. ​​ Goodell​​ of Beverly, MA​​ who finished third in the race and​​ Dempsey each​​ took a wrong road approximately one-half​​ mile​​ from the finish line. ​​ They were running neck and neck at the time for first place, but the​​ lost time​​ spent​​ getting back to the right course was costly.


The National Interscholastic Cross Country race was held Thanksgiving Day​​ at the Seton Hall College Campus Course in Orange,​​ New Jersey,​​ with over 400 runners participating. ​​ Dempsey covered the 2.8​​ mile course in a fast time of 14 minutes,​​ 52 seconds to capture the National title. ​​​​ He was the first Aroostook boy to win the National Interscholastic championship,​​ bringing his running career to a brilliant conclusion. ​​ Giberson,​​ a former Caribou​​ “hill and dale”​​ star,​​ came the closest to this honor when he finished second in 1932, the same year Houlton won the National Championship. ​​ He was the first Maine runner to win the​​ race since Maurice Toothaker accomplished the feat in​​ 1938. ​​ At the time many coaches marveled at Dempsey’s running ability and referred to him as one of the greatest “hill and dalers” in Maine​​ history. ​​ The Presque Isle team finished fourth in the National Meet; Markee finished 14th, Hallett 16th, Smart 23rd, Shalek 37th. ​​​​ 


Through their efforts the name of Presque Isle gained prominence in national sports circles. ​​ The team and their coach were honored by high school officials at​​ a banquet​​ held​​ at the Northeastland Hotel.


Malcolm Dempsey was not only a fine athlete but was also a good student. ​​ He was a consistent honor student and​​ very active in school activities. ​​ He was vice-president​​ of the HI-Y club​​ of which he was a member for three years, treasurer of the student council, member and past president of the FFA, Drama Club, basketball three years, track 3 years, varsity club three years, French Club vice- president. ​​ He ran cross country for three years and developed into one of the finest runners​​ in the history of​​ Presque Isle High School.

National High School Cross Country Champion.