John McNichols left an undeniable legacy on the sports of cross country and track & field.
McNichols began his foray into the world of track & field in high school, where he starred as a hurdler. His prowess caught the attention of Indiana University coach Jim Lavery, who brought McNichols to Bloomington on a full athletic scholarship.
After graduating in 1972 with a bachelor’s degree in physical education – which he’d later upgrade to a master’s – McNichols started out as a coach and teacher with the Monroe County School Corporation before transitioning to Bloomington North High School in the same capacity.
McNichols turned his attention to the collegiate ranks in 1983 when he was hired as the head men’s cross country and track & field coach at Indiana State University. He’d hold that position until 1989 when he added overseeing the women’s program to his responsibilities.
The Sycamores thrived under McNichols’ direction.
Indiana State dominated the Missouri Valley Conference like no other team in conference history. McNichols-led teams captured 38 conference titles in 34 years with 11 in those in cross country and 27 of them in track & field (10 indoor, 17 outdoor). Those team titles wouldn’t be won without individual glory, though, as the Sycamores totaled 464 MVC individual championships (456 in track & field, eight in cross country) with McNichols at the helm.
McNichols’ athletes were also successful on the national level – none more so than Holli Hyche.
Indiana State standouts captured 15 individual NCAA titles in track & field, seven by Hyche. All of Hyche’s national titles were consecutive as she swept the indoor and outdoor short sprint crowns in 1993, repeated the following year indoors, and won the 100-meter championship outdoors.
The Sycamores totaled 113 All-America honors between cross country and track & field, punched 173 tickets to either the NCAA Indoor or Outdoor Championships and teamed up to finish in the top-25 of NCAA meets 15 times. Behind Hyche’s lead, Indiana State tied for fifth at the 1993 NCAA Indoor Championships, the best finish by a McNichols-led team.
Hurdling was always McNichols’ first love, and he ensured that the Sycamores excelled in that discipline. McNichols coached two hurdlers who won national titles – Chris Lancaster, 1990 110 hurdles champion; Aubrey Herring, 2001 60 hurdles champion – and helped four athletes go sub-13.45 outdoors and five go sub-7.77 indoors.
One of McNichols’ finest contributions to cross country was the LaVern Gibson Championship Cross Country Course. McNichols oversaw the construction of the course, which was built on the site of a reclaimed coal mine. The course hosted the NCAA Division I Championships 12 times over the years – including eight in a row from 2004 to 2011 – and will once again welcome the best of the best to its grounds in 2019.
McNichols served in high management positions in domestic and international track & field, too. He was a meet official at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles as well as the 1987 Pan-American Games and the 1988 U.S. Olympic Trials before ascending to Head Marshal of the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.
McNichols will be inducted posthumously, as he passed away in 2016.