Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism. Support independent student journalism.
The Dartmouth
February 27, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Coaching changes, athlete turnover and injuries abound: Former men’s cross country and track runners expose challenges of past two years

From 2022-23, the men’s cross country roster shrunk from 24 to 15 runners. The Dartmouth interviewed former team members and a parent of a former team member to find out why.

2.1.24_Track_MichaelLin.jpg

Five former members of the men’s cross country and track and field team who participated in the 2022-23 season have been given the code names Chris, Drew, Max, Sam and Tom, respectively. Each of them have been granted anonymity, so they may speak candidly about their experiences. 

In just over two years, Dartmouth men’s cross country and track and field has experienced a tumultuous period marked by leadership changes, numerous injuries and athlete turnover, according to former team members, a parent of a former team member and a former volunteer coach of the team.

In December, former men’s cross country and track and field head coach Sean McNulty lost his job after he was hired last winter. Dartmouth Athletics director Mike Harrity notified the team on a Dec. 27 Zoom call that McNulty had been terminated while the team was on winter break, according to one of the anonymous former athletes, who will be referred to in this article as “Max.”

The 2023 men’s cross country roster no longer lists McNulty, with College media relations strategist Jana Barnello confirming in an email statement to The Dartmouth that McNulty is officially no longer employed at Dartmouth.

McNulty did not respond to multiple requests for comment by time of publication. 

In November, prior to McNulty’s removal, the men’s cross country team had sent a letter to Dartmouth Athletics asking the College to investigate “the coaching system and health and safety of the athletes on the team,” according to a portion of the letter The Dartmouth has reviewed. 

According to the parent of a former athlete — who requested anonymity to speak candidly about his and his son’s experiences with the team — all sophomores, juniors and seniors on the team signed the letter, parts of which have been obtained by The Dartmouth. 

The letter contained reasons the team believed McNulty should be investigated and potentially removed, including “a significant number of severe injuries on the team.” McNulty’s training program was “as predicted by many, a disaster for the athletes,” the letter stated. 

According to the letter, 20 of 24 distance athletes suffered injuries in the indoor and outdoor seasons following McNulty’s hiring. Additionally, the letter reported that eight to 10 of these injuries were femoral stress fractures, “which are highly unusual and rare.” 

Max said that he believes McNulty was unqualified for the position. 

“I think the real issue is [McNulty] really was set up for failure,” Max said. “He was — to put it simply — an unsuccessful Division III coach … and his results don’t exactly inspire confidence.”

McNulty coached the Transylvania University men’s cross country team from 2019 to 2023.  In 2022, Transylvania finished 29th out of 38 teams in the NCAA Division III Great Lakes Region Cross Country Championships.

“When I think about … a D1 coach who is coaching teams that were finishing in their regional 20th to 30th, I would have thought that they would have been grossly under qualified [to coach at Dartmouth],” Sam said. “So, for a D3 coach … putting up results like that, [for him to be hired] felt like a pretty big slap in the face.”

The parent of a former athlete said he took it upon himself to research McNulty’s background, which may have ultimately played a role in his termination. 

The parent explained that his research led to the alleged claim that McNulty fabricated certain aspects of his resume to get the coaching job at Dartmouth. The parent then sent a letter with the information he found to the College’s Chief Compliance Officer, which initiated an “investigation” into McNulty, according to the parent. 

The Dartmouth obtained the parent’s letter and verified some of his claims. 

The parent alleged that McNulty fabricated the length of his collegiate running career. According to a Dartmouth Athletics press release from Dec. 7, 2022, “[McNulty] was a four-year athlete in cross country and track and field” at the University of Kentucky. However, Tony Neely, assistant athletic director for Athletics Communications and Public Relations at the University of Kentucky, stated that McNulty was listed on the official NCAA squad for just one year.

In addition, the press release announcing McNulty’s hiring was recently taken down.

Before it was also taken down, McNulty’s biography on Dartmouth Athletics corroborated Neely’s records, stating: “[McNulty] spent one year on the cross country and track and field programs before becoming a student manager for a year and a half” at the University of Kentucky. 

Max said he found the reported inconsistencies on McNulty’s resume “disappointing” but “not surprising.”

“When a coach is assigned to a group, I think we’re sort of hardwired to just trust him,” he said. “It’s surprising that we didn’t find out [about] this earlier.”

Under “coaching staff” on the men’s cross country roster, only Porscha Dobson Harnden — the Marjorie and Herbert Chase ’30 track and field and cross country director — and volunteer assistant coach James Randon Tu’24 are currently listed. 

Pre-McNulty, squad sees significant leadership turnover

Prior to McNulty, five different coaches — John Simons, Courtney Jarwoski, Justin Wood, Kendra Foley and Ben True — supported the men’s distance program in respective periods from September 2020 to December 2023. With each coach came a new workout regimen, norms and coaching style.

In September 2020, Barry Harwick ’77, who had been the cross country and track and field head coach for the last 28 years and served as the Marjorie and Herbert Chase ’30 track and field and cross country director since 2014, retired from both roles. 

Following Harwick’s retirement, Courtney Jaworski, the women’s cross country head coach,  unofficially stepped in as the men’s cross country head coach, another anonymous former team member, who will be referred to as “Drew,” said. John Simons, who had been the men’s mid-distance coach since October 2017, supported the men’s distance program along with Jaworski during this transition period. 

In September 2020, Harnden succeeded Harwick as the program’s new director. Before that, Harnden coached at the University of Pennsylvania as an assistant coach from 2012 through 2018; in 2018, she was promoted to associate head coach and held the position until 2020. 

According to Drew, Harnden fired Simons in November 2020 soon after assuming her role. In the meantime, Jaworski covered the distance and mid-distance programs for both the men’s and women’s teams until he left to become Smith College’s track and field and cross country director in May 2021. 

In place of Jaworski and Simons, Dartmouth hired Justin Wood, previously a Division III coach at the University of La Verne, as the official head coach of the men’s cross country team and an assistant head coach of men’s track and field, in December 2020. That winter, the men’s distance team had a historic season under Wood, with the distance medley relay winning at the 2022 Ivy League Indoor Heptagonal Championships.

However, Wood stopped responding to his runners’ text messages and phone calls a few months later during the leadup to the fall 2022 cross country preseason, according to the anonymous former athletes. On Aug. 22, 2022, the first day of preseason practice, athletic director Mike Harrity called together a Zoom meeting to announce that Wood had resigned as head coach.

“It was just a logistical nightmare,” Max said. “The freshmen had just arrived on campus and were lost getting themselves situated with meal cards and their room keys.”

The former athletes also expressed confusion as to why Wood resigned.

“We adored [Wood] as a group,” Max said. ”Our group ran incredibly well under [Wood]. He helped us forge this identity as the ‘men of Dartmouth.’”

Max said that there was no clarification given by Harrity or anyone else to the team about why Wood resigned.

Wood did not respond to multiple requests for comment by time of publication. 

On Sept. 13, 2022, the team gathered for another meeting. There, it was announced that Ronald Shaiko, a former associate director at The Rockefeller Center for Public Policy who had served as the team’s faculty advisor for 22 years, would no longer assist the team, according to another one of the anonymous former athletes, who will be referred to in this article as “Tom.” Shaiko had been set to retire from his volunteer coaching position at the end of the 2022-23 school year, Tom added. 

Shaiko used his running experience to help out the team as a volunteer, his former athletes explained. 

“The cross country team was his thing,” Tom said. “He was always the team guy. He would come to every practice, he would carry our stuff around, he would time us — he was a huge mentor. He was a very critical part of the team and had been for decades.”

Another one of the anonymous former athletes, who will be referred to herein as “Sam,” said Shaiko was a “point of stability” after Harwick retired because of his knowledge about the team and the team’s trust in him. He also said Shaiko was “absolutely instrumental” in “easing the transition” from Harwick to Wood. 

After Wood resigned, Shaiko’s role became even more important to the team, according to Sam. 

“Shaiko felt like the one last person who was looking out for the distance team and had our interests in his mind,” Sam said. “He was the one person we felt like we could trust and rely on, and the one person we felt like could advocate for us.”

Max said that Dobson Harnden and Tiffani-Dawn Sykes, the College’s executive senior associate athletics director from March 2022 to January 2023, told the team during that September meeting that Shaiko had been removed.

According to Max, Sykes cited Shaiko’s alleged “misogynistic” attitude toward the women’s cross country and track and field team as the reason for his removal. He added that Sykes said the track and field and cross country program was looking for a new faculty advisor. 

“The real big f*** you was when they fired [Shaiko],” Tom said. “[Sykes] stood up there and tried to tell us that [Shaiko] was being fired for being misogynistic and discriminatory towards the women’s team.”

Max described Shaiko’s reaction to these allegations at the time. 

“He was honestly really, really upset by the defamation of his character that he … didn’t respect women,” Max said. “As a professor [at] Dartmouth, that’s obviously a pretty big deal.”

An anonymous member of the women’s track team, who requested anonymity to speak candidly about her and the women’s team’s experiences with Shaiko, explained that Shaiko was a timekeeper for both teams and wasn’t a “main figure.” 

“We literally just knew [Shaiko] as the guy who just chilled out by the track and took splits,” she said. “So, when we heard he was getting fired — there’s all these scandals around him — it was funny because it was just like, ‘Oh my gosh, [Shaiko] doesn’t even talk.’” 

The member of the women’s team said she and her teammates occasionally joked that Shaiko didn’t know their names or much about them because he was “shy” and “didn’t really engage with them.” 

“[He] didn’t really have a relationship with us,” she said. “So, I think that is where those misogynistic allegations would come from. But, to my knowledge, I don’t think he ever did anything explicitly anti-woman or expressed any negative sentiments about women.”

Shaiko declined to comment specifically on why he was removed from his volunteer position on the team. Currently, Shaiko remains a Rockefeller Center senior fellow.

Tom said he remains skeptical of the circumstances surrounding Wood’s resignation and Shaiko’s removal, and that he believes that both were the result of a larger conflict between Harnden, the director, and Wood, the men’s head coach.

Tom described how he typically didn’t say much during team meetings, but that his anger over Shaiko’s removal moved him to speak up.

“I remember I was like, ‘Who is this lady [Sykes], who I’ve never met — she’s never been a part of this team — and she’s trying to tell me that someone that has been a huge mentor for me for my whole time at Dartmouth is some kind of bigot who needs to be fired for those grounds and pulled out of a volunteer position?’” Tom said. So I called her on it, and she snapped at me and tried to gaslight me more. And then [Harnden] tried to say something, and more people stepped up and started saying stuff to [Harnden].” 

Max explained that Shaiko was not only removed from his position but “banned” from interacting with the team.

“There were threats of calling the police because he wasn’t allowed to be near our group … in the fall of 2022,” Max said.

“I don’t think [Shaiko] believed [Harnden] that [the Department of Safety and Security] would actually remove a tenured professor from somewhere on his campus,” Tom said. 

However, Shaiko’s removal came to fruition at the Dartmouth vs. Columbia vs. Yale meet, hosted by Dartmouth at Leverone Field House on Jan. 21, 2023. 

According to Sam, who was not racing at the meet, he was “chatting” with Shaiko when a DoSS officer “interrupted [the] conversation” and “escorted [Shaiko] out of the building.” Sam said he later heard that Shaiko’s access to Alumni Gymnasium had been terminated. 

When asked about his removal from the team, Shaiko replied in an email statement to The Dartmouth by praising team members for their perseverance despite having “no one” who “was willing to take a stand for them.” 

“I could not be more proud of the student athletes on the men’s cross country team,” Shaiko wrote. “They took a stand for themselves when no one was willing to take a stand for them. That these same student-athletes were eyewitnesses to the consequences of my failed attempts to advocate for them makes their actions even more impressive. I am humbled by the character and integrity exhibited by these gentlemen. No student athlete at Dartmouth College that I have come to know over the past 22 years should have to endure what these gentlemen have endured for the past two years.”  

Team presses on without Wood and Shaiko

Kendra Foley, the current women’s cross country head coach, served as both the women’s head coach and the nominal coach for the men’s distance team following Wood’s resignation in August 2022, according to The Dartmouth’s past coverage. Ben True ’08 also stepped in as a volunteer head coach for the 2022 cross country season. 

According to Dartmouth Athletics, True is a professional distance runner who holds the American record in the 5km road race. He placed sixth at the 2015 IAAF World Championships in the 5km race and became the first American to win a Diamond League 5km. Since 2021, he has been co-founder, head coach and owner of Northwoods Athletics, a professional running team based in Hanover.

True wrote workouts for the team and sent them to a senior member, who would then “propose” the workouts to Foley, Sam said. The system was meant to lighten Foley’s load after the number of athletes she managed suddenly doubled.

Under Foley and True, the team placed fourth at the fall 2022 Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships — its best finish since 2018. 

Despite this success, True was not hired when the search process for a new men’s cross country head coach concluded, Max noted.

“We came away from that year pretty happy and looking forward to seeing who our long-term replacement was as the head coach,” Max said. “I’d say that almost every single person on the team would’ve wanted Ben True to be in that role. It seemed like it made too much sense — he was looking to be a coach, he obviously had interest … and the guys just loved him so much. It seemed like a very natural fit.”

Sam added that True seemed like the clear choice for the next head coach because of his status as a record-holding, professional runner, which would have generated “positive buzz” about the team after a few “turbulent” years.

“Ben True was unanimously [the team’s] first choice,” another anonymous former athlete, who will be referred to in this article as “Chris,” said. Chris explained that three senior members of the team were chosen by Harnden to assist in the interview process and provide feedback for who they thought was the best candidate.

However, under Harnden’s leadership, McNulty was hired over True. 

Trey Cormier ’23, a member of the team during McNulty’s first winter and spring seasons, said it was “frustrating” that the team seemed to come to a consensus on True that was then ignored, with no explanation as to why True was not hired. 

Cormier added that he felt like there was “no clarity in the [hiring] process whatsoever.” 

Chris said that he also disagreed with the decision to hire McNulty. 

“The reason that we were given for why [True] wasn’t hired was ‘experience’ — I believe it was ‘coaching experience,’” Chris said. “If you know who Ben True is, and you think about that explanation, it is just absolutely ridiculous.”

Chris and Sam both said they believed McNulty was hired because McNulty was more cooperative than True.

“I think the reason [True] wasn’t hired is because [Harnden] wanted a ‘yes man,’ and [McNulty] was going to be that guy,” Chris said. “That was an issue … with the previous coach [Wood] … he wasn’t a ‘yes man’ and expressed his opinions.”

Team faces injuries under McNulty’s leadership 

Four of the anonymous athletes said that they had never before experienced anything that resembled McNulty’s training. 

McNulty’s highly-intensive training method was counterproductive, Sam said. 

“College runners, especially at the D1 level, especially at Dartmouth’s level, need to be restrained a bit more than they need to be pushed because they’re really ambitious,” he said. 

Inexplicably, McNulty’s workouts also seemed to defy common practice among peer teams, the former athletes said.

“It’s honestly hard to describe because it seems like almost everything that could have gone wrong went wrong,” Max said. “[The training] was very, very different from any other program in the country. We were doing too much speed work, especially on the indoor track … Long story short, almost everyone on the team got injured.” 

Chris, Max and Tom attributed the increased number of injuries on the team to McNulty’s training regimen. Tom said the training had a“much higher … frequency of intensity than what we were used to,” even though their former coach Wood’s workouts had already been “very regimented.” The bigger problem, however, seemed to be that the training “never really worked out the way that it looked on paper,” which led to “constant disruption” of the runners’ training schedules.

“There was a lot of intensity work, but … it wasn’t really anything we couldn’t handle,” Tom said. “There were always random changes — there was always inconsistency.”

Chris, Max and Tom said many of the injuries their teammates endured were stress fractures in their femur bones. Specifically, Chris said that he was aware of a runner who ran through a femoral stress fracture during the spring 2023 season.

“My closest peer and teammate … ran a school record on a stress fracture in his femur, and then came back the next day and ran another race,” Chris said. “So, that was just the most memorable example of just, ‘we achieve success, but at what cost?’”

Athletes quit the team, drop off from injury

From fall 2022 to fall 2023, spanning from when McNulty was hired through his season coaching cross country, the men’s cross country roster shrunk from 24 to 15 runners — a drop that reflects both seniors graduating and runners quitting.

“One quit immediately [when McNulty was hired], and then four others quit either when they were injured or frustrated with the program,” the parent of a former athlete said. 

Chris said he made the choice to quit following the 2023 indoor track season. 

“I was so jaded by the end of indoor track that I just decided to call my Dartmouth career after that — I didn’t even run outdoor track because I didn’t want to operate under Sean McNulty and Porsha Dobson [Harnden],” he said. 

Max said the drop off in team members from the fall — when Ben True was coaching — to the spring, when McNulty coached, was significant.

“Of the 12 who competed at 2022 Ivy League Heptagonal Cross Country Championships, only three people were able to toe the line for a single race for the outdoor track season — whether that was because of injury or quitting the team,” Max said. 

Of the three who were able to run, Max said one athlete had a “serious bone injury” but chose to continue running because it was his senior track season. 

Athletes repeatedly communicated their concerns about the team’s injuries and performance with McNulty, Max said. 

“Several times throughout the indoor and outdoor season, people sat down and had conversations with [McNulty],” Max said. “We had team meetings with him. And things were obviously going poorly. Most of the team was injured, and the guys that were racing weren’t necessarily racing well.”

However, Chris said that McNulty didn’t change anything about his training as a result of these conversations. Max added that it became evident from those meetings that McNulty had no structured or informed regimen. 

“It really started to scare people when it became clear that there really was no plan,” Max said. “His training was coming up on the fly.”

The team also had conversations with Harnden and other Dartmouth Athletics representatives, Max said. However, they were also unresponsive to the team’s concerns. 

“It seemed like a lot of it was going in one ear and out the other,” Max said. “It didn’t seem like there was a whole lot of care taken for our group by the administration.”

Looking ahead

Max said he hopes that Harnden and Dartmouth Athletics face accountability for hiring McNulty. 

“For whatever reason, the administration and [Harnden] can’t seem to get someone that really can do the job properly,” Max said. “I truly hope they get the best possible coach to come.”

Tom alleged that Harnden has tried to transition the program to a more sprint-based team, despite Dartmouth’s historic success in cross country.

“[Harnden] wanted to hand-curate her program to see success in specific areas where she saw fit but … didn’t really care if some of the success was not achieved at the distance side in order to see more success in other events,” Tom said.

Tom also stated that Harnden and Dartmouth Athletics have prioritized performance over mental and physical health and wellbeing. 

“I think sports admin and [Harnden] never took the wellbeing of the men’s team into consideration,” he said. “I think they were strictly operating off how many top-10 marks we could get, how many quantitative achievements … we achieve.”

Sam said he believes that the “instabilities, coaching changes and lack of trust” have not only hurt athletes and their performance, but also led the program “off of its trajectory in a negative way.” 

“As an alum [who] really valued the history and legacy of Dartmouth cross country, to see the future appear to be in jeopardy because of Harnden is really disheartening and saddening,” Sam said.

Attempts by The Dartmouth to reach Harnden and the College’s Chief Compliance officer, Alejandro Diaz, were met with suggestions to reach Jana Barnello, the media relations strategist for the Office of Communications. 

In an email statement to The Dartmouth, Barnello declined to comment on a “personnel matter,” but wrote that “for Dartmouth and Dartmouth Athletics, the health and safety of our students are of paramount importance.”

The authors of this article reached out to current and former Dartmouth Athletics staff, current and former students and athletics staff from other institutions.

James Randon Tu’24, current cross country volunteer assistant coach; Barry Harwick ’77, former director of cross country and track and field; Ben True ’08, former Dartmouth men’s cross country volunteer assistant coach and Tiffani Dawn-Sykes, former executive senior associate athletics director, each declined to comment. Courtney Jaworski, former women’s cross country coach; Kendra Foley, current head coach for women’s cross country; Mike Harrity, Dartmouth’s athletic director and Nick Romei, assistant director of varsity athletics communications, did not respond by time of publication. 

Stephen Gonzalez, director for leadership and mental performance and Tory Engel, a Dartmouth athletic trainer, declined to comment.

If you have any tips or further information related to this story, please contact editor@thedartmouth.com.

Correction Appended (Feb. 1, 9:09 a.m.): A previous version of this article stated in the deck that The Dartmouth interviewed a former volunteer coach of the team, referring to Shaiko. This statement has been removed to reflect that Shaiko provided a written statement but was not interviewed. 

Correction Appended (Feb. 2, 2:29 p.m.): A previous version of this article stated that Shaiko’s removal was announced in a November 2022 meeting. The article has been updated to clarify that the meeting occurred on Sept. 13, 2022.