Drescher: Gibbons girl was no runner-up on the track

john.drescher@newsobserver.comJuly 21, 2012 

At Cardinal Gibbons High School in the mid-1970s, Jeff Goodwin was a star basketball player and a Big Man On Campus.

Gibbons, then a small school on Raleigh’s Western Boulevard, played only a few sports. Boys’ basketball was king.

Goodwin was a terrific guard – one of the city’s best. He and backcourt running mate Ben Johnson led Gibbons to a 27-3 season in 1976-77, their senior year.

It was a fine team with a fine young coach: Joe Cantafio, who later coached men’s basketball at Virginia Military Institute and Furman.

Goodwin and Johnson were three-year starters. I was a year behind them at Gibbons and a benchwarmer. To most of us, they were the star athletes of the school.

We were wrong.

Goodwin and Johnson were classmates of a young woman named Julie Shea. During her senior year, Shea set the record for the girls’ high school mile with a time of 4:43.1.

Not the school record. Not the city record. Or the state record. The U.S. record.

‘Pure dedication’

Cantafio tried to explain Shea’s greatness to me then but I didn’t get it. How could a girl runner be considered better than Jeff and Ben?

Such was the thinking of many males then. Women’s sports were just starting to emerge and participation had yet to explode.

Goodwin, now co-owner of Scooter’s Grill & Bar in North Raleigh, said last week he knew Shea was great. He remembered running laps with the basketball team and announcing that he was going to beat Shea, who was running with them.

She blew past him.

He remembered seeing her run to school in her plaid-skirted school uniform, book bag strapped on her back.

“When I think of Julie Shea, I think of pure dedication,” he said. While he and Johnson got attention at school, it was Shea, he said, who was known by college coaches.

‘Under the radar’

That might not have happened if not for Title IX. That law, which turned 40 this year, says no person may be excluded from participation in any educational program receiving federal money. Girls’ participation in high school and college sports has grown dramatically.

Shea was on the crest of that change. She went to N.C. State, where she was a seven-time NCAA champion and ACC athlete of the year in 1980 and 1981. She will be inducted into State’s sports hall of fame in October.

Shea is now Julie Shea Sutton. She remembered Goodwin and Johnson as high school stars who were nice guys. “I looked up to them,” she told me. “I thought those guys were big time. Truly.”

Sutton, who was a strong student, was always modest. It didn’t bother her that the boys’ basketball players got the attention.

For several years at Gibbons, Sutton was the girls’ track team, running several events. She couldn’t run cross country in high school because the sport wasn’t offered until 1980.

“I ran under the radar,” said Sutton, 53, who lives near Southern Pines. “It was a quiet sport, a lonely sport. That was before the running boom. I liked it that way. I was quiet.”

She remembered how her dad coached her and recruited other girls to run in the Junior Olympics.

“There were a lot of fathers out there who wanted their daughters to have the same chance as their sons,” she said. She’s glad girls today have so many opportunities to play so many sports.

Sutton recently was part of the first class inducted into the Cardinal Gibbons Athletics Hall of Fame.

Many of us, reflecting the attitudes of the time, didn’t know how good she was then. But we do now.

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com. On Twitter @john_drescher

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