The Mark of a Champion Remains: Jeff Scuffins

By George Banker

The running community mourns the loss of Jeff Scuffins (June 16, 1962–March 20, 2021) of Hagerstown, MD. Scuffins, a 1980 graduate of North Hagerstown High School (Maryland), held the record for 1,600 meters (4:18.84) for 32 years, which was broken in 2012 by Evan Hardy. Scuffins graduated in 1985 from Clemson University with a Bachelor’s degree in administrative management.

Scuffins was a two-time National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national champion for three miles indoors, setting a meet record of 13:50.0 in 1981.

The Washington Running Club was founded was in 1974 and was known among runners as an elite distance-running club in the Washington, DC area. In the 1960s, ’70s, and early ’80s, the racing team would travel to racing events, including national and world-class cross-country races to compete. Scuffins was a member of the club 1984-1986.

You will note below that Scuffins was not one to shy away from competition. He ran with the best, and a few times, he beat the best.

Over the years, Scuffins received recognition for his athletic performance through induction by the following organizations:

1988     National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA)
1993     Hagerstown Community College
2008     Marine Corps Marathon
2018     Washington County Sports

Notable personal best performances:

St. Patty’s Day 10-mile in Kutztown, PA on March 15, 1987 (47:57), first place.

Penn Relays–Olympic Development 10,000 meters, University of Pennsylvania on April 27, 1987 (28:40.0), fifth place. The winner was Jean-Pierre Ndayisenga (28:23.4). The first year for the Relays was on April 21, 1895.

12th Marine Corps Marathon, November 7, 1987 (2:14:01), first place with a new event record. The MCM was Scuffins’ marathon debut. The runner-up was Darrell General (2:19:08).

Turning the clock back to 1987 as I reported:

The 12th Marine Corps Marathon was held on November 8, 1987. The temperature at the start was 60 degrees and 73 degrees at the finish, with winds at 10 mph.  The first in the history of the race, television coverage was provided by WTTG-TV, Channel 5. The commentators included Steve Buckhantz, Bill Rodgers, Missy Kane, and Angela Robinson. Larry Matthews was broadcasting on WMAL, and Mike Ritz spoke with runners along the course at the Lincoln Memorial. 

Race entries reached a history record of 12,091 (10,193 males, 1,898 females) with 8,809 finishers (7,505 males, 1,304 females). The race entry fee was $15.00. Due to the high temperature from last year, water stations increased from nine to 14. The U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials would be taking place in 1988, and to qualify, males had to run 2:20 or less and females had to run 2:50 or less. The temperature was 60 degrees at the start, but the air quality was not good because of forest fires burning in West Virginia.

Brad Ingram was making his seventh appearance, and Tom Bernard was making his fifth. The score was 2 to 1 in Ingram’s favor.  On average, 60% of the marathon runners in the Marine Corps are first-timers. Ingram and Bernard had Jeff Scuffins of Hagerstown, MD, to worry about, a late entrant wearing bib number 11464 and his running mate, Chris Fox, wearing bib number 11463. Another contender making his third Marine Corps was Darrell General of Temple Hills, MD.  In 1984 at age 18, he ran 2:24:36, and in 1985 he ran 2:26:52.

Going into the 11th mile, Scuffins found himself in total control. The chase pack began to fade as Bernard dropped back, and Ingram dropped out at Mile 22, while by Mile 24, General was out, fading.

Scuffins was on record pace and shattered the event record (2:16:31 by Dean Matthews, 1981) by two and one-half minutes and ran 2:14:01. General placed second with 2:19:08 and the two qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials.  Ingram dropped out at Mile 22, and Bernard finished in 72nd place with 2:39:09. The Ingram-Bernard era came to an end.

“We started very slow, and it took us five to six miles to get to the front. Jeff was on his game immediately; I had to keep asking him to hold back. We had a fairly leisurely run, for us at the time, 5:15 to 5:20 pace tempo effort. I knew I was going to get out between 10 to 15 miles. We kept picking it up, and Jeff was talking as if we were on one of our training runs in Williamsport, MD, on the C&O Canal towpath,” stated Chris Fox.

Fox, from 1987-1994, was a member of the Nike-Athletics West Team with a best mile time of 3:59.10, 5000m in 13:21, 10,000m 27:53, and the marathon in 2:13:40. Presently he is the head cross-country and track and field coach at Syracuse University.

Fox dropped out of the race (nine miles), and Scuffins was on his own. “Jeff was glad I was gone so he could go faster. He dropped the pace to 5:10. I saw him a few more times during the race, and he looked under complete control. He finished with very bloody feet from blisters, the worst I’ve seen in my long history in the sport. He did not complain, and he was untouchable that day. Two hours after the race, we were at White Flint Mall having lunch, and people recognized Jeff from the great live T.V. coverage they had. I remember it as a great day for my great friend and everyday training partner. The record will stand as long as it remains a race for the people,” added Fox.

Scuffins had the following elapsed times: half-marathon (1:06:49), Mile 14 (1:11:16), Mile 16 (1:21:15), Mile 18 (1:31:14), Mile 19 (1:36:19), Mile 21 (1:46:30), and Mile 22 (2:02:03).

The record Scuffins set remains in good standings to date and the only time under 2:15. The closest runner was in 1996 (2:19:09) by two-time winner Issac Garcia of Mexico.

“About Scuff, the first thing that comes to mind when I think of him as a runner is gutsy!  If you recall, when he ran his 2:14:01 Marine Corps Marathon time, his shoes were bloodied from blisters that had opened while he ran (remember seeing the pictures of his shoes). I would also say Jeff was a very smart runner, knew his pace and never extended himself,” stated Barry “Boop” Holder, a 1979 Williamsport graduate and state champion for the Wildcats (1978–15:46, three miles).  

At the 15th Marine Corps Marathon (November 4, 1990), Holder place third overall in a time of 2:26:45.

“From a personal perspective, Scuff was a great friend of mine and many.  His quick-witted humor and personality will surely be missed.  He also loved his Baltimore Orioles and Ravens, never missing a game.”

“Fresh out of college on May 25, 1985—at only 22-years-old—he defeated a world-class field in the $12,000 Travel Fun 10K in Arlington, Virginia. His 29:13 broke free from second placer Kenyan Sosthenes Bitok (29:21) late in the race and earned Scuff $2,500. Bitok had placed sixth in the Olympic 10,000-meter final less than a year earlier,” stated Mike Spinnler, who coaches the Cumberland Valley Athletic Club and at Hagerstown Community College.

Scuffins competed against some of the best runners. Bitok placed sixth at the 1984 Olympic Games (August 6, 1984) in a time of 28:09.01.

“On March 15, 1987, Scuff defeated a world-class field to win the St. Patty’s Day Run in Kutztown (PA), a 10-miler, in 47:57. Bill Reifsnyder, the 1992 Olympic alternate—and 1991 USA National Marathon Champion—was second (48:01).”

“The 1987 Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) was supposed to be a long 15ish mile tempo run preparing for an Olympic Trials Qualifying attempt at the Cal International Marathon the following month. Our coach Greg Shank got him a number so he could run in the MCM race. He just felt so good. Greg told him to keep going and go ahead and get his Olympic Trials Qualifying mark today. If you watch the race-coverage video, you can tell there was a lot more in the tank than 2:14:01 if he had needed it. He was entertaining—and funny guy—who everyone loved hanging out with.”

The Marine Corps Marathon was familiar ground for the runners from Hagerstown. On November 7, 1982, Jeff Smith was the overall winner with a time of 2:21:29 (19th fastest winning time to date). Spinnler ran the race in 1988 (2:46:39, 114th place) and again 1997 (3:15:07 600th place). Jared Hawkins made a respectable showing in 2007 (2:25:34, 3rd place) and 2008 (2:25:19, 4th place).

“I think I first met Scuff in the early ’80s (maybe ’81 or ’82). We hit it off right away. I hung out with a lot of the Hagerstown guys back then (and still do). Mostly, Terry Baker, Mike Spinnler, Greg Shank, and 20 or 30 others too numerous to mention. Mostly, at post-race parties. I think the main thing Scuff and I had in common was our love for beer. We also loved running,” stated Jeff Smith.

“When Scuff got inducted to the Marine Corps Marathon Hall of Fame, I think he was able to invite five guests. He invited four of the Hagerstown guys and said I want Smitty there! I am still flattered and honored that he would think of me! Pink (Mike Spinnler) recently commented on my F.B. page that I am a Cumberland guy (Baltimore originally). That we used to be fierce competitors, but ‘he’s one of us now’ (meaning a Hagerstown guy). I am very humbled and truly blessed for all the relationships I have made through my 50 years of running. I will miss Scuff and still be expecting him to walk into a post-race party somewhere. Maybe I will get to do a 5-mile run on the towpath in the sky with Scuff and Eddie (Greg Shank) someday.”

“My favorite Scuff story was from after the Great Allegany Run (GAR). I ran into Scuff on my cool-down. He was only planning on running three or four miles. When I told him I was running back up to near the start, which was about eight miles altogether and about four miles, all uphill from where we were at the time, he said, ‘No way, Smitty! You are crazy!’  I said, ‘I have a cooler full of cold Shaffer Light in the trunk of my car! ‘ He said, ‘Smitty, I’m in!’ “

One runner stated, “I did not know Jeff, and he was not tall, but he sure could run fast.” One day, maybe the 2:14:01 may fall. Let it be known that what Scuffins did will remain in history. The performance was all for the sport’s love, a determination which Scuffins displayed in pursuit of getting an Olympic Trials qualifying time. There was no cash to take to the bank, but the Middendorf Trophy rewarded his efforts.

The tributes will continue as will thoughts about Scuffins. Each October, as runners participate in the Marine Corps Marathon, Scuffins will be looking over the crowd to see if a runner will go after his record.

In closing to Scuffins: Semper Fidelis!

PERFORMANCES
Hangover Classic 10K, January 1, 1983, 1st 30:44
Cooper River Bridge 10K, March 30, 1985, 6th 29:55
Columbus Chase 10K, October 13, 1985, 3rd 30:03
Baltimore 10K, December 1, 1985, 3rd 29:46
Old Reliable Run 10K, November 16, 1986, 17th 29:21
Charlotte Observer 10K, January 3, 1987, 6th 29:38
Cooper River Bridge Run 10K, April 4, 1987, 6th 30:50
Asbury Park Classic 10K, August 8, 1987, 10th 30:05
Harvest Providential Express, September 7, 1987, 5th 29:38
The Great Race, September 27, 1987, 6th 28:47
Red Lobster, February 6, 1988, 27th 29:37
Fair Lakes, September 18, 1988, 5th 30:26
The Great Race, September 25, 1988, 19th  29:16
Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K, February 13, 1988, 24th 45:30
Great Allegany Run, October 1994, 10th 48:22
Herndon, VA 10-Mile, August 3, 1980, 5th place 54:16
Nike Cherry Blossom 10-Mile, March 27, 1988, 12th 48:45
Nike Cherry Blossom 10-Mile, April 2, 1989, 20th 48:54
New Bedford Half Marathon, March 20, 1988, 16th 1:06:12
Parkersburg Homecoming, August 20, 1988, 5th 1:05:31
New Bedford Half Marathon, March 19, 1989, 12th 1:05:57
New Jersey Waterfront, April 30, 1989, 6th 2:15:15

11-8-1987 Jeff Scuffins with Ambassador J. William Middendorf, II 12th Marine Corps Marathon, 1st Place, Event Record 2:14:01 (Photo Courtesy of Marine Corps Marathon)

1981 Greg Shank, Terry Baker, Mike Spinnler, Jeff Scuffins (Photo courtesy of Mike Spinnler)
11-8-1987 Chris Fox, Darrell General, Jeff Scuffins, James Glidewell leading the 12th Marine Corps Marathon, Pentagon North Parking Lot (Photo Courtesy of Marine Corps Marathon)
10-24-2008 Marine Corps Marathon Hall of Fame Induction: Mike Spinnler, Jeff Smith, Jeff Scuffins, Barry Holder, Greg Shank, Brian Ferrari (Photo Credit: George Banker)
10-24-2008 Marine Corps Marathon Hall of Fame Induction: Jeff Smith, Miles Marathon Mascot, Jeff Scuffins (Photo Credit: George Banker)
The 1987 St. Patty’s 10 Miler in Kutztown drew the stars of the Mid-Atlantic. Jeff Scuffins, third from left, won over this deep field that included Amway, Boreham, Reifsnyder, Barnhill, G.Beardsley, and Doub. (Photo by Clay Shaw)
Jeff Scuffins running in the 1987 Asbury Park Classic 10K in Asbury Park, NJ. (Photo by Clay Shaw)
Jeff Scuffins in action at the 1981 Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in Washington, DC. (Photo by Clay Shaw)
Jeff Scuffins wins the 1987 St Patty’s 10 Miler in Kutztown, PA. (Photo by Clay Shaw)


Categories: Athlete Profiles

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3 replies

  1. Great articular, thank you!

    Like

  2. Great article George with classic road race photos.

    Like

  3. Great article George.

    Like

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