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February 8, 2023

Catz alumnus inducted into college cross country hall of fame

Tony Muñoz, teammates enshrined at Humboldt State University

WATSONVILLE—Tony Muñoz was scanning through his emails one day when he came across one out of the blue that delivered some shocking, yet exhilarating news.

The 68-year-old Watsonville native and six of his teammates on the 1977 Humboldt State University men’s cross country team were inducted into the Hall of Fame Class of 2022.

“It was nothing that was expected, it just happened,” he said.

Muñoz and his companions were recognized for placing second at the NCAA Division III National Championships in Cleveland, finishing just three points from capturing the national title.  

Fellow teammates Scott Peters placed 12th and Ken Hammer took 23rd to earn All-American honors. 

Other top runners included Frank Ebiner, Chris Speere, Dewayne Little and Jerry Tucker, who helped the Jacks win a conference championship that season.

Muñoz attended the ceremonial dinner at Blue Lake Casino & Hotel in Blue Lake on Oct. 7 where he met with his former teammates, which at first he didn’t recognize. 

“We get gray hair, lose hair, that happens,” Muñoz said. “It was a happy time to be there. It was quite an honor to be there, they announced the team and I made a little speech.”

Pretty neat for someone who was hoping to play baseball instead of running through the woods up at Mount Madonna Park.

Thomas Muñoz was at the ceremonial dinner to watch his dad get recognized for both his talent and hard work.

“To commit yourself to doing things that don’t necessarily require instant gratification, I think, is really important,” Thomas said. 

Thomas also mentioned on a more light-hearted note that it was validation and verification that Tony was actually pretty good at what he did. 

“His stories, they’re not just tall tales,” Thomas said. “They were based in reality.”

Thomas said that running is what kept his father motivated and invested into anything he did in life. 

Muñoz was the first in the family to get a college degree, which set up Thomas and his siblings for success down the road. He also founded the Soul Burners, which was the first running club in Watsonville and Pajaro Valley. 

“His time in Humboldt really set this foundation for our family to have success going forward and thinking about that way was really powerful for me,” Thomas said.

In the early ‘70s, Tony Muñoz along with some of his friends tried out for the Watsonville High cross country team and the rest was history. It worked out perfectly for him because he worked on the weekends and it was something to keep him busy. 

“I liked it and I stuck with it,” Muñoz said.

At the time, Watsonville High had an excellent reputation for long distance runners. 

He was part of the 1972 cross country team that included Carlos Reyes, Rudy Muñoz, James Gardone, David Delagarza, Relles Lopez and Ron Eichhorn that won the school’s first-ever Central Coast Section title in any sport.

After a mediocre career in a Wildcatz uniform, Muñoz graduated in 1973 and he went on to compete for the Jacks under legendary coach Jim Hunt, who passed away in 2019.

Muñoz showed up to Humboldt with two suitcases. Hunt promised his recruit a job and a room to board with a teammate while he attended Humboldt State. 

He mentioned that running helped with discipline, which later helped in his career.

Muñoz recalls being up at 5am, practicing and training barefoot on the sand dunes, never-ending redwood trails or the nice track on campus.

“It was a beautiful environment and I met some of the nicest people there,” he said.

There were times when they needed to pick each other up during the hardship of school work and illnesses around the time of cross country championship season.

Humboldt State had runners from throughout California, yet Muñoz said what made them special was the respect for each other and Hunt. 

“They also recognized the history of Humboldt, they trail blazed the aura that existed to be on that campus,” he said.

Hunt’s training system was focused on working with individuals, giving them different workouts and providing personal feedback. 

“I always think the coach is a big factor,” Muñoz said. “Jim Hunt just knew how to do it. I give it to him, he was the key to our success and the ability to get along with each other.”

Muñoz was able to form a friendship with two of his teammates—David Figueiredo and Speere—who both went on to have successful careers. 

Muñoz never envisioned himself going into a sports hall of fame. His original thought was to enjoy the competition and camaraderie with teammates. 

Plus, it was a college degree that eventually opened doors in the future.

Muñoz sometimes thinks back if he should’ve left the sport and just focused on his studies. 

Instead, he was part of a special group that left a finishing mark behind for all the hard work they put in. The cherry on top, so to speak.

“I was there and it’s such an honor to be inducted, my kids and grandkids get to say grandad is inducted at HSU,” he said.

Juan Reyes
A Watsonville native who has a passion for local sports and loves his community. A Watsonville High, Cabrillo College, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumnus, he primarily covers high school athletics, Cabrillo College athletics, various youth sports in the Pajaro Valley and the Santa Cruz Warriors. Juan is also a video game enthusiast, part-time chef (at home), explorer and a sports junkie. Coaches and athletic directors are encouraged to report scores HERE.

1 COMMENT

  1. Tony is a great guy.
    I enjoyed getting to know him through my involvement with Watsonville Pony at their annual coaches clinic.
    Congratulations,
    Don Keathley

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