Morgan “Mike” Mosser played baseball in the Washington Pony League as a youth. He loved the game, but Washington High School had discontinued its baseball program so Mosser took a swing at track and field.
He hit it out of the park.
Mosser, given a chance to run middle distance races at West Virginia University, came into his own as a Mountaineer.
He became an NCAA champion in 1972, winning the 1,000 yards indoor title.
Mosser competed against the best the United States and the world had to offer.
He is a member of WVU’s athletic Hall of Fame.
His biography for the Hall of Fame says: “The nation’s top miler in 1972, distance runner Morgan “Mike” Mosser easily ranks as one of West Virginia University’s greatest athletes.”
In High school, Mosser, bored and without a baseball team to play for, decided to become a member of Washington’s track team.
Mosser, 71, who was a multi-sport athlete at the former East Washington High School became a Prexies’ athlete when the schools merged in the late 1960s.
Despite not being able to play baseball at Wash High, which had discontinued the sport, Mosser had an offer from Thiel College to play baseball for the Tomcats.
“I wanted something to do,” Mosser said. “I wanted to be on the cross-country team, but I knew all of the wrestlers who didn’t play another fall sport would be on the cross-country team. I did compete and it helped me get in shape for basketball.
“I went out for track. I didn’t make it out of the district in the mile. But (the late Wash High track coach) Dave Johnston recommended me to the WVU coach Stan Romanoski.”
The Mountaineer coach came to scout Mosser and, according to a teammate, Doug Canan, Mosser performed well enough to earn the last scholarship Romanowski had left.
“I remember (Johnston) calling us over during a meet,” Canan said. “He said in order for Mike to secure the scholarship, he’d have to run a 4:30 mile or better. Mike ran a 4:28 and got the scholarship. Within two years, he broke the four-minute mile. That’s how quickly he improved. He accomplished a lot at WVU and took it to the professional circuit.
“I admit Mike got better in cross country as it went on. I really liked Mike and have to admit I was a little squeamish as track season approached because of his improvement in the distance races.”
Mosser won more than 50 meets during his Mountaineer career.
He earned a spot on the cross-country team in the fall of 1969 and participated on the Mountaineers’ NCAA national team. He held the No. 4 spot on the team and appeared to be just another college runner – until the beginning of the indoor track season the following winter. Running for the first time ever on an indoor track in his initial collegiate track meet, Mosser defeated WVU’s top runner, Carl Hatfield, in the 1,000-yard run. Hatfield was coming off of an All-America season in cross country and was rated the top distance runner in WVU history.
“I needed some kind of scholarship to go to college,” Mosser said. “Johnston was my advocate. Fortunately, Carl took me under his wing. I wasn’t ready when I got to WVU. He knew I was raw. I learned track was a seven-days-a-week sport.”
Mosser’s confidence soared. In one year, he trimmed 30 seconds off his high school time and became one of the nation’s premier milers as a sophomore. He placed sixth at the NCAA championships in the mile with a time of 4:03.5, he bettered that mark by two places as a junior. He also finished third in the NCAA indoor meet at 1,000 yards with a time of 2:08.7.
“I ran four to six miles in the mornings and in the afternoon from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. intervals on the track. In cross country, I ran six to 10 miles every day. I credit Carl for putting me under his wing and showing me how to train and to compete.”
Mosser became an NCAA champion as a senior in 1972, when he won the 1,000-yard NCAA indoor title at Cobo Arena in Detroit, becoming WVU’s first national champion in track.
Mosser was the NCAA record holder in the 1,000 with a time of 2:06.9 and he was a four-time All-American in track and a four-time NCAA qualifier in cross country. He qualified for the 1972 U.S. Olympic Trials in the 800 meters and just missed making the U.S. Olympic team. Mosser’s qualifying time of 1:46.8 was two seconds slower than U.S. team member Dave Wottle, who won the Olympic gold medal at Munich with a time of 1:44.8.
He and Wottle became, and remain, great friends. They were collegiate – Wottle attended Bowling Green – Olympic, and professional competitors.
“Mike reminded me so much of myself,” said Wottle, who was identifiable by the baseball caps he wore during competition. “He could do it through all distances, cross country, races indoor and outdoor and was great in the middle-distance races, the 800 and 1,000.
“True milers and half-milers need a lot – strength and speed in the half mile and endurance for the mile. Mike had both. He handled different distances very well. Mike had what it took to be great in the 1,000. That was his forte.”
In 1971, Mosser was invited to participate in the nationally televised Martin Luther King Freedom Games “Dream Mile” that featured the return of U.S. Olympian Jim Ryun in his bid to challenge the worlds No. 1-ranked miler, Marty Liquori of Villanova. Liquori won the race. Mosser led at the half-mile mark. The race is an ESPN Classic. It can be viewed on You Tube under 1971 Dream Mile.
“That was a great era of middle and distance running,” Mosser said. “I was privileged to race against that kind of competition.”
“The dream mile was a big event,” Wottle said. “Back then, on any given weekend, you could be the gold medal winner beating a gold medalist. It was the heyday of middle and distance running. When you add Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter in there, it just makes it stronger. Mike was part of that. He had a great career and was in there mixing it up with the best.”
Olympic trials or bust
As a Mountaineers’ senior, Mosser qualified to participate in the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.
“At the time, the Olympic Trials were not on our WVU track schedule,” Mosser said. “The athletic director said it wasn’t scheduled so it wasn’t budgeted.
“I was training and washing cars at a Ford dealership to raise money to try and make the trip to Eugene. I hadn’t raised enough money to fly out.”
Enter Washington natives, the late Gene Millick – a WVU sports enthusiast – and Gerald Chambers, former athletic director and wrestling coach at Trinity.
“Mike had done some cross country running at Wash High, just as I had left there to go to Trinity,” said Chambers, a long-time successful track and field coach for the Hillers.
“At the time, there were some great distance runners in the WPIAL at North Allegheny and Bethel Park. Mike blossomed at WVU. He and Gene became friends. I got to know him better. We were instrumental in helping him get to Oregon.
“(The late) Jim Banner (of Canonsburg) took those other WPIAL runners to Pitt when he was the track coach there. They helped form a two-mile relay team there that set a world record. Even at that, Jim told me he missed (recruiting) one guy then. It was Mike. He and I just got to know each other better and became friends. He’s a great guy and very professional.”
Two weeks before the Olympic Trials, Mosser drove to Eugene, stopping at training areas along the way to sleep and eat.
Mosser, who lives in Morgantown, W.Va., with his wife, Dr. Nancy Mosser – the retired chair of the Waynesburg University nursing department – joined the ITA professional track tour in 1973. The couple have two children, a son, Ryan, and daughter Kate, and five grandchildren.
He signed a contract that paid him an $800 signing bonus plus traveling expenses and prize money – long before the days of corporate sponsorships and lucrative shoe contracts. Mosser also had to work for U.S. Steel while competing professionally on the weekends. A member of the ITA Tour until it disbanded in 1975, Mosser was ineligible to participate in the U.S. Olympic Trials in 1976 because of his professional status.
Mosser competed against the best in the world as a collegian and professional. That group, in addition to Wottle, included:
- James Ryun, an American was an Olympic track and field athlete, who at his peak was widely considered the world’s top middle-distance runner. He won a silver medal in the 1,500 meters at the 1968 Summer Olympics and was the first high school athlete to run a mile in under four minutes. He is the last American to hold the world record in the mile run.
- Kipchoge (Kip) Hezekiah Keino was the chairman of the Kenyan Olympic Committee (KOC) until September 2017. A two-time Olympic gold medalist, Keino was among the first in a long line of successful middle- and long-distance runners to come from the country.
- Marty Liquori rose to fame when he became the third American high schooler to break the four-minute mile by running a 3:59.8 in 1967, three years after Ryun first did it. Liquori made the U.S. Olympic team in 1968 as a 19-year-old freshman. He reached the finals of the 1,500-meter run but suffered a stress fracture and finished 12th. He was the youngest person ever to compete in the final. In 1969, he finished second to Ryun in the NCAA indoor mile, then won the NCAA and AAU outdoor mile championships by turning the tables on Ryun and beating him. He repeated the AAU outdoor in 1970 and had his best year in 1971, winning the NCAA and AAU outdoor titles, and a gold medal in the 1,500 meters at the Pan-American Games.
Mosser once defeated Keino and made a lasting impression on the track world.
In addition to the WVU Hall of Fame, Mosser is a 2019 inductee of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame, Washington-Greene Co. Chapter.
“It’s pretty cool to be included with the many WVU great athletes, Joe Marconi, Jim Braxton and so many others,” said Mosser, who spent 28 years in the mining industry and worked for U.S. Steel and for 15 years with the Department of Energy.
“I’ve been very blessed. I took track up and was able to turn it into something special.”
Actually, it was a grand slam.