Prep cross-country: Tigers coach honored by peers

Phil McGrath has been leading NHS runners to state competition for nine years.
Northwestern head cross country coach Phil McGrath talks to his runners during a practice at NHS in October. (Jed Carlson /

The Wisconsin Cross Country Coaches Association has named Northwestern High School coach Phil McGrath the District 1 boys cross country coach of the year.

Fellow coaches in District 1, which covers 66 schools in the northwest quarter of the state, voted to give him the title.

“To be recognized by your peers is always an honor,” said Jeff Martin, who represents District 1 on the association.

The award is well-deserved, said NHS associate principal and athletic director Brian Smith.

“Phil is an outstanding cross country coach. He is a great mentor to our cross country runners and gets the best out of our runners, and they always improve as the season goes on,” Smith said.


  • RELATED: Prep cross country: Tigers compete at state meet
  • RELATED: Prep cross-country: Tigers make their own path, reach state despite obstacles Led by Emmett Johnson, Northwestern advances a team to state for the sixth time since 2012.
  • RELATED: Cross-country: Tigers capture 12th straight HON crown Emmett Johnson led the boys team with a second-place finish.

Northwestern has won 12 consecutive boys cross country titles. Smith said that kind of success is rare.
McGrath started as an assistant coach in the 2011-2012 school year and became head coach the following year. He jumped into a flourishing program.

“We all recognize that Phil inherited a program that was already successful and has just continued building on the success that his predecessor John ‘Woody’ Woodbury established,” said Martin, a former Chetek-Weyerhaeuser cross country coach.

The initial humility McGrath brought to the position is wearing thin, however.

“In the early years he blamed Woody for his success,” Martin said. “A dozen years out, however, he can't get away with that anymore.”

Every year, Northwestern boys compete and head south to the state meet. Martin said the energy the boys exude during their warm-ups speaks volumes to what the program has accomplished.

As both coach and high school English teacher, McGrath has an opportunity to connect with students.

“He has impacted a lot of students' and athletes' lives over his career thus far,” Smith said.

The rest of this year's District 1 honorees include:


  • Rachael Robinson of Osceola was named District 1 girls coach of the year for the second year in a row.
  • Max Blader of New Richmond, who placed sixth at state competition, was named District 1 boys runner of the year. One of the other nominees for the title was Nolan Burchfield of Solon Springs/Northwood.
  • Rachel Ulrich of Osceola was named District 1 girls runner of the year; she placed fifth at state competition.
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
What To Read Next
Get Local