Tribute to a champion

Sept. 5, 2012 He was not the biggest guy in the world. Yet, once the starting gun went off there was not a bigger person on the track or following a cross country trail than John O’Neill. The great running star of the 1970’s at Butte Central past away recently. He lost his battle with leukemia. I know John battled the disease every step of the way just like he did on the track. O’Neill was a fierce runner who would back down from no one. John had a glare and determination that would melt competitors in any race. O’Neill was an incredible athlete at Butte Central. He first emerged as a sophomore in high school. John placed third at the state cross country meet. The next spring, O’Neill won the two-mile event at the Class A state track championships. John set a record for Class A in the two-mile with a clocking of 9:49.2. After a summer of hard training, O’Neill was unbeatable in the fall of 1970. He won the Class A state cross country state championship. All great champions go through trials and O’Neill was no exception. He got hurt in the spring of 1971 and could not compete in track. O’Neill fought to come back and he did in style. He went through the 1971 cross country campaign undefeated winning a second state title in the sport. O’Neill led the 1971 Maroons to the state championship. It was one of the most dominate teams in school history. The team never lost a meet all season and set a record at the biggest event of the year, Missoula’s Mountain West Invitational. Butte Central set a team record at that meet which included teams from throughout the Northwest. The record would stand the test of  time for 17 years before being broken in 1988 by a Helena High. In the spring of his season year,  O’Neill capped his brilliant high school running career, by winning the two-mile event at the start track meet. John once again set a Class A state record with a time of 9:35.1. Following his prep career, O’Neill went on to compete in cross country and track at the University of Montana. After college, John raised a family and had a successful business career. He was a champion both on the track and in the game of life. Finally, a true champion has cross John O’Neill it was a race well run.