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Cross country feature: OCC's Valentine's Day full of love

February 19, 2002

Steve Virgen

The birthday of Orange Coast College's all-weather track had that

storybook feel to it. After years of running on plain old dirt and losing

athletes to other schools because of it, the Pirates welcomed their new

track with a festive mood on Valentine's Day.

What an entrance for first-year coach John Knox. Who knows what this

former OCC track athlete has in store for an encore. Yet, to give credit

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where credit is due, Knox acknowledged he walked into a great situation

when he spoke to the many on hand for the opening ceremonies which

preluded a tri-meet won by OCC over Saddleback and Irvine Valley.

The Pirates' victory was the climax of this story, which included

smiles galore from everyone involved with the track and field program to

the college's academic administration.

A good story always comes with drama: The OCC track was set to open

last year, but the inside lane did not meet regulation standards.

However, that didn't stop the Pirates. They worked to get the opening

ready before this track season.

And a great opening it was. Coach Dave Salo's men's and women's swim

teams broke out of their practice to join the fun, as did Coach Chuck

Cutenese and his men's volleyball team. The Pirates' national champion

cheer and dance teams also attended the ceremony.

Jim Carnett, the director of community relations, opened the ceremony,

eyes beaming with pride. Carnett has been working at OCC for 30 years and

he was one of many happy to see the new track put to use.

Carnett introduced OCC president Margaret Gratton, who cut the ribbon

at the finish line to symbolize the opening of the track.

Knox then made his debut.

"I feel like Lou Gehrig at Yankees Stadium saying I'm the luckiest man

alive," Knox said, moments after his track and field athletes gave him a

jubilant ovation. "I walked into a great situation. The athletic director

(Fred Hokanson) was my former coach and someone I can turn to when I need

help. Walking out here, it's nice everyday and I walk with a smile on my

face everyday."

Knox presented a special award to Jim McIlwain, who coached the track

and field team from 1975-78. McIlwain, OCC's vice president of

administrative services, is known as the person most responsible for the

all-weather track. He followed through on keeping the track idea alive

when so many obstacles came his way.

Knox also named McIlwain, Hokanson and Gratton honorary captains for

the season.

Fittingly, Gratton ended the ceremony by saying, "Let the games

begin."

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