MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO TV Channel 4.) — November 3, 2017
“This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1997 Stillwater boys’ cross-country team, widely considered the greatest in state history — and one of the all-time greats nationwide.”
“As a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore, Jon Francis earned a top spot on the high school’s varsity boys’ cross-country team and helped lead it to a state and national championship. The 1997 Stillwater High School Boys’ Cross Country Team went undefeated. They were Conference, Section, and State Champions and voted by the sports’ writers (USA Today/Harrier’s) as National Champions (Ranked first out of 23,000 high school boys’ teams).
Jon finished eighth at the Sectional, completing the 5K course in 16:18, and qualifying for his first Minnesota State Meet. At the 1997 Minnesota State High School Cross Country Running Meet at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Jon was the fifteenth. competitor and the fourth Stillwater runner to cross the finish line.
Jon earned All-Conference and All State honors that year. This was a ‘three-peat’ for Stillwater – their third consecutive Boys Cross Country Championship. Local sports writers dubbed them ‘The Magnificent Seven.’
‘You smell like a wet dog,’ (his sister) Jocelyn said to Jon when he returned home after a run. The nickname stuck. The entire family started calling him Jon Dog.”
(Added by David Francis)
From Bringing Jon Home – Chapter 8- Jonathan David Francis
The Magnificent Seven: 1997 Minnesota State High School and National Champions (Left to right: Coach Scott Christensen, Sean Graham, Luke Watson, Greg Wikelius, Chris Boldt, Jon Francis, Joel Solomonson, and Pete Prince)
In an upstairs room in his house in Stillwater, Scott Christensen keeps the memories tucked away and preserved for safekeeping. Memories of a legendary team he coached that still resonates, with an almost mythical reverence, in the Minnesota running community. A group of kids that came to be collectively known as The Magnificent Seven: Greg Wikelius, Luke Watson, Sean Graham, Pete Prince, Joe Solomonson, Jon Francis and Chris Boldt. “It put a smile on my face when I first heard it,” Christensen said. “Certainly, you know, brings back some good memories.”
The 1997 Stillwater boys’ cross-country team is widely considered the greatest in state history — and one of the all-time greats nationwide.
Scott Christensen (credit: CBS)
“We were rated first in the country, we’ve been rated first in the state for more than three years,” Christensen said. But not even they thought a day like this was in the cards. “I didn’t think we would be that good,” he said. Christensen says that magical day was a cold one. “Very chilly, it was under 30 degrees,” he said. “The gun went off and [we had) an excellent start.” In cross country, seven runners from each team run the race, with the top five counting toward the team score. “And by two miles, two thirds of the way through it, we had four in the top 10,” he said. “At that point you’re thinking, ‘There isn’t anybody that can beat us.'” Stillwater won the state title with 35 points, an incredible score, and one of the lowest ever.
But that was not even what made their performance so truly special: all seven runners finished in the top 37.
There have been lower scores. Minneapolis South holds the Class 2A record with 29 in 1991. But no other team had that level of top-to-bottom dominance — and not even close.
That ’91 South team, for comparison, had all seven in the top 80. Stillwater’s seven in the top 37 was truly magnificent. “They were just really good,” Christensen said. “[They’ve] gone on to do such wonderful things.”
- Luke Watson is now a professor at the University of Florida.
- Sean Graham is the head coach at American University.
- Greg Wikelius is a successful businessman in Denver.
- Chris Boldt is a scientist at Medtronic.
- Pete Prince is a high school principal in New York City.
- Joel Solomonson is an artist in San Francisco.
- Jon Francis died in a mountain climbing accident in 2006.
The Magnificent 7: From left to right, top row: Scott Christensen, Greg Wikelius, Luke Watson, Sean Graham, Pete Prince,. Bottom row: Joe Solomonson, Jon Francis, Chris Boldt (credit: CBS) But for the six who remain, and their coach, the bond between them, and the memories of what they did that day, are as important as ever.
“We had the ecstasy of that day, but then we’ve had the other side of life, too, that we’ve continued to live together,” he said. “I’ve watched them grow up, but it doesn’t seem like 20 years ago.”
All seven were offered Division I scholarships. Christensen says he’s just as proud of what they’ve all done as adults.