When talking about the greatest athletes in the history of Washington County, Melvin Boyd might not be discussed right away.
He should be. This guy could go the distance with the best Washington County has had to offer.
Boyd, arguably, is the greatest distance runner in Western Pennsylvania history. The Ringgold High School graduate won PIAA championships in two sports – cross country in 1972 and track (two-mile) in 1974. He was a three-time WPIAL cross country champion and two-time PIAA two-mile champion. Boyd set a state championship event record in 1974. What really speaks of his great athleticism is that he was the starting point guard on Ringgold’s 1972-73 WPIAL championship basketball team that also featured Joe Montana, Ulice Payne, Scott Nedrow and Mike Brantley. Boyd was all-state honorable mention that year in basketball.
His unique combination of explosive quickness on the floor and long-distance running excellence is rare.
“He had speed and quickness and great endurance and determination,” said Joe Ravasio, who taught and coached at Ringgold. “Melvin Boyd is a special athlete. He was unselfish on the basketball floor with quickness and tremendous ballhandling skills. His long-distance running is without peer. “I coached 38 years and know of no other athlete like him and his unique combination of skills.”
Boyd started to fully understand his gifts in August of 1971 when running during a workout at Mingo Creek Park. His track coach, the late Ed Poad, was timing runners off a three-mile course, Boyd explained.
“The course took us up around the sheriff’s office,” said Boyd, 64. “I looked behind me on the way there and no one was there. On my way back, the rest of the runners were coming at me. “I crossed the finish line and (Poad) looks at the time and starts yelling at me. He said I must have cut the course. Eventually, he realized my time was legitimate and he told me I could go far (as a distance runner).”
Poad was right. Interestingly, that workout at Mingo Park was part of Boyd getting himself in shape for basketball. It was the sport he truly loved at the time.
“I had played basketball my whole life,” Boyd said. “I was fortunate to just have natural talent. In my neighborhood growing up, we had a lot of kids older than me. Most of them were so much taller. But I did well against them. I was just a natural athlete. I could do just about anything left- or right-handed. I am a natural lefty, but I golf right-handed.”
Boyd was inducted into the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame’s Mid Mon Valley Chapter in 2004.
Boyd’s long-distance running career got its spark when he won the half-mile championship in an AAU event.
“You never know how good you are or can be,” Boyd said. “It started for me that day.”
One of Boyd’s siblings, Father Douglas Boyd, assistant pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Bloomfield, also was a long-distance runner in his youth.
His admiration for his brother is immense.
“He was really good,” Father Boyd said. “He’s also a good guy. At different times, we’d run in the same races. He was better than me in the mile and two-mile. Those were good times. Melvin stayed in great shape. It was tough playing point guard with all the starting and stopping and running hard. I think that we were always on the golf course. Caddying helped us both strengthen our legs. Melvin was a pretty focused athlete. He was determined and a hard worker.”
After helping Ringgold win the 1973 WPIAL basketball championship and to a third-place finish in the state, Boyd elected to not play basketball his senior season to focus on cross-country and track. He had more than 20 offers to play big-time college basketball. But he felt running is what would take him to the next level.
“We had a family of eight,” Boyd said. “I wanted to go to college, but I needed to get a scholarship to go. I wanted to ensure I could go to school and not have to pay for it. That’s why I decided to just focus on running and not play basketball my senior year.”
Boyd received his scholarship from Pitt and his excellence in cross-country and track continued with the Panthers. He competed in nine NCAA championship events, combining indoor and outdoor. Boyd left Pitt as the holder of its cross country and 5,000-meter run records. He was co-captain of both teams as a junior and a senior. He was Pitt’s Most Valuable Player in cross-country in 1976 and 1977, and in track in 1977 and 1978.
Boyd also was an All-American in cross country and competed against some of the best competition and runners in the world – including the late Steve Prefontaine. After graduating from Pitt in 1978, he continued his education and became the Panthers’ assistant track and cross country coach until 1982.
“I ran against all the good ones,” Boyd said. “It was a great experience.”
Boyd continues to hold the record at Schenley Park for 10,000 meters.
“People run 100 races there every fall and winter,” he said. “I’m proud to still hold that record. I feel like with my other accomplishment and that record, I am one of the greatest distance runners in Western Pennsylvania history.”
Alan Veliky was an assistant basketball coach at Ringgold when Boyd played and he later coached track at the school. He agrees, Boyd has not received as much credit for his athletic prowess as he could have received.
“Melvin was really great at three sports – cross country, basketball and track,” Veliky said. “With the athletes and teams he played on, I don’t think he was given the recognition he deserved. He was a very unselfish point guard who passed the basketball where it was supposed to be. He rarely shot it himself, but when he did, it usually went in. His quickness and ballhandling skills made it very difficult to press us or play him man-to-man.
“Melvin was constant motion. You could not find a better kid. An opponent could not cover him with one man an entire game. He just kept going. I remember that after practice, he would go and do his long-distance running. He was pretty amazing. He was perpetual motion.”
Boyd currently lives in Phoenix, Ariz., with his wife Laurie. The two have been married 38 years.
He worked for many years as a store manager for Kroger’s grocery stores in Texas, Louisiana, Ohio then to Phoenix. He retired from the company in 2014 and has worked the past four years for another company. He will officially retire in February.
Boyd said he rarely gets “home” but does stay in contact with a few friends in Pennsylvania.
“My wife’s mom is still living, and she gets back that way,” Boyd said. “When you travel around and lived in different places, you lose touch with people. I’m Facebook friends with Scott Nedrow.”
Boyd said one of the reasons for his success was the humility taught him by his family and to respect every opponent equally and every time.
“There was a natural extension from my distance running into the business world. You can’t call timeout when you are in a race. You have to keep going. That mentality really helped me out in the business world. I always felt I could outwork anybody,” he said.
“The only satisfaction I get now from my days at Ringgold and Pitt is knowing I was one of the best runners – or interchangeable with a couple of others – in Western Pennsylvania in that time. I think it was my greatest (athletic) accomplishment.”