Northern Lights

Toni St. Pierre, 58: Passion for running opened track to girls

Runner and cross-country skier, she was one of two high school girls who sued the Minnesota State High School League in 1972, leading to one of the first federal court decisions supporting equal rights in high school sports.

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Toni St. Pierre

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She was just a slight eighth-grader under a storm of dark, frizzy hair.

Inside, Toni St. Pierre was fierce. “A pistol,” recalled Patrick Lanin, retired track coach and science teacher at Hopkins West Junior High School.

It was the late 1960s when she broke the school record for a timed run during phy ed class. Lanin pulled her aside and urged her to keep at it, even though only boys were on the cross-country team. She was skeptical, but agreed to an informal training program.

At a state amateur meet, she beat older competitors, including women from the University of Minnesota. At 15 or 16, she began working out with Lanin’s junior varsity cross-country team. If opposing boys’ coaches didn’t object, St. Pierre ran for Hopkins in meets.

It wasn’t the same as having a girls’ team, but St. Pierre threw herself into practices.

One fall day, she was running training loops with the team at Meadowbrook Golf Course. The pack of boys had hair as long as she did, but Lanin could pick her out, running with her peculiarly short but efficient stride.

Then some of the boys began detouring and fooling around.

St. Pierre split off from the group and sprinted up to Lanin. Tears running down her cheeks, fists clenched, the wiry teenager was in a fury.

“Those guys are cutting the course!” she snapped. “They aren’t competing!”

“She was just smoking that they weren’t putting the effort out,” Lanin said from his home near Brainerd. “That’s how intense she was. For her, it was a race.”
 

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