GUSTAVUS TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Ted Rupe is wearing an orange T-shirt emblazoned with the words “Oscar Grant XC Invitational.”
As he sat on his patio in Gustavus Township, the former high school cross country standout explains that the sport was nothing more than a training ground for basketball players in the late 1960s – something the late Oscar Grant knew because he coached both sports for Maplewood High School.
After some nudging from Grant, Rupe acquiesced to the fact his skills belonged more on a cross country course than the hardwood floor. Life then blossomed for the young athlete, eventually spurring a decorated running career in high school and college, and eventually mentoring distance runners at the high school level.
“[Grant] told me one day, ‘Ted, quit basketball. Just run,’ ” Rupe says. “I wasn’t a basketball player. And from that point on, I really developed my skills. He told me, ‘You need to go on to college, keep your running going. When you get your degree, I’ll retire and you can have my job’ – which essentially happened.
“So, nobody probably gave me more direction in my career path than Mr. Grant did.”
Maplewood and McDonald High School boys cross country teams were the beneficiaries of the wisdom of brothers Ted and Chris Rupe, who each guided his team to five of their respective seven state championships. The schools are tied for the third-most boys cross country state championships in Ohio High School Athletic Association history.
For Ted Rupe, that successful path was almost derailed. A phone call in August of 1973 from the men’s cross country coach at Cleveland State University gave an 18-year-old Ted Rupe an offer he could not refuse.
Building barns with his grandfather occupied the time of the 1972 Maplewood High School Class A state cross country champion. A scholarship offer to pay for his post-secondary education was dangled in front of him.
Sitting outside at his family’s farm years later, Rupe recalls how a small-school distance runner saw a fledgling collegiate program blossom into one of the country’s best – placing 11th in the NCAA Division I cross country championships. At the time, Cleveland State had the top American distance athlete in Mark Hunter and added more talent throughout the years. Incrementally, Ted Rupe improved as a collegiate runner, admitting it took a long time to become elite.
“It taught me that you don’t give up on those kids that aren’t necessarily the most talented because it took me a long time to develop,” he says. “I wasn’t a natural by any means but fortunately, because of my coaching and my parents’ support, I just kept pushing and pushing. It took a while but I improved.”
He began his coaching and teaching career at Garfield Heights, Mansfield and LaBrae high schools before Grant’s prognostication came true and he returned to his alma mater, Maplewood. Almost a decade ago, Ted Rupe retired as a coach and a science teacher in the afterglow of his Class A and Division III boys state cross country state championships – four he coached and one in which he led the Rockets to their first title in 1972 as a runner.
McDonald boys cross country, a program with two state champions in the early 1980s under then-coach Barry Clute, hired Chris Rupe as a coach in the mid-1980s. Chris ran in the late 1970s and early 1980s at Maplewood and Cleveland State University, just as the elder Rupe did years before.
Winning state was an elusive feeling that never overcame Chris Rupe until a late spring day in 1999 at the Division III state track and field meet. Ed Stonestreet ran the last two laps of a 400-meter oval inside Dayton Welcome Stadium during the 4×800-meter relay race, leading the quartet of runners to victory and 10 team points. He added 10 more with a 1,600-meter victory the next day, but struggled in the first 300 of the 800-meter run 40 minutes after his individual state championship.
Rallying from a downtrodden start, Stonestreet persevered to win by three-tenths of a second and secure another individual state crown. Flooded with a wave of emotion, Chris Rupe recalls his storybook ending that vaulted this 1999 McDonald boys team to state glory by two points and setting state records in the process.
Winning Division III boys state cross country in the fall of 1999 and four more times before retiring this year as coach is part of Chris Rupe’s imprint on McDonald boys cross country.
“Everything just changed for my coaching trajectory,” he says. “That was the first time where the idea of a state championship was like, ‘Whoa, that was something else.’”
Then there were the streaks of Ted making the state meet 20 straight seasons for Maplewood (1990-2009) and Chris doing it 16 times at McDonald (1999-2015).
Streaks are amazing. Chris says that watching to see if your team qualified for state is not the only engrossing thing about each season. For him, it’s serving the needs of each team member.
“There’s so much more good stuff that can happen in the season other than just keeping a streak alive,” Chris Rupe says.
Longevity is displayed in many ways. Cross country runners have training runs during the summers spanning anywhere from 20 to 100 miles per week, spending solitary hours with the soles of their sneakers connecting with pavement, dirt, grass or gravel.
“Once you find that sort of enjoyment on a regular basis, it’s so easy to go back and find a passion for it, to love the hard work that goes with it,” Chris Rupe says. “Even if you never get the success, it’s still the hard work itself that becomes enjoyable.”
Nowadays, you’ll usually find Ted roaming around his property during the day, chasing one of his young grandchildren, spending time at home. But his blue van can still be seen at the finish line of high school cross country races and distance races for all ages on asphalt roads.
The brothers operate Gopher Running, a timing system that tracks distance events around the Mahoning Valley, including the Panerathon held in late August.
Nothing is minuscule about the 160 acres of property that encompasses the Rupes’ land, where Ted, Chris and their sister, Sandy, all have houses. They raise 20 head of beef cattle along with some crops and plenty of hay. In the 100 acres of nearby woods, the families produce maple syrup.
“I think it’s good for the kids to grow up on this and they’ve certainly pitched in and helped a lot,” Ted Rupe says. “I think that they learn a good work ethic from the whole thing, which is really what sports are about – learning how to discipline yourself and get in there and do the work to make yourself a better person.”
Pictured: As athletes and coaches, Chris and Ted Rupe guided their teams to five of the seven state championships in boys cross country, the third-most in Ohio history.