BY AMY ZAMBRANO
Thirty-five years ago, the Pima Community College cross country “great pumpkins” headed to Farmingdale, N.Y., to represent Arizona and PCC at the junior college cross country national competition.
The national competition came after PCC won a state championship and a regional title with an undefeated record of 10-0.
The 1976 cross country team was the first major Pima team to compete at a national level.
PCC President Irwin Spector and coach Jim Mielke had high hopes for the team to bring home a trophy with No. 1 engraved on it.
The very experienced team was headed for a tense and challenging competition. But why the “great pumpkins” name?
Mielke awarded the name “pumpkins” because of the orange shirts the team wore.
Spectators who watched the team win the state championship added the “great” description.
During the 1976 state championship, Pima runners captured the first three places.
Art Menchaca was the first runner to cross the finish line, setting a course record time of 24:02.
Larry Martinez finished second in 24:19 and Frank Canez took third with a time of 24:22.
Mielke told reporters the Pima team had fulfilled its mission, and had an “honest shot at the national championship title.”
On Nov. 13, 1976, Mielke took seven athletes to compete for the national title, hoping to bring home that first place trophy. Unfortunately, they had to settle for second place behind a Virginia team.
For Mielke, second place recognition was enough to prove his team’s value.
“The athletes have gained the feeling that they are among the best athletes in the nation,” he said.
The Pima athletes competing were: Brian Denker, who finished in fourth place; Larry Martinez, sixth; Ruben Ruiz, seventh; Art Menchaca, eighth; Frank Canez, 20th place; David Duffy, 45th place, and Nick Ortega, 107th place.
The athletes were “pleased but not content” with their national title, Mielke said. Finishing in second place brought “the fulfillment of a dream and another goal to dream for.”