Legendary Greenwich track and cross country coach Bill Mongovan’s legacy is being kept alive by a some of his former athletes who have organized the Bill Mongovan Memorial Fund to honor the longtime coach who died Dec. 21 at the age of 78.
Mongovan coached indoor track, cross country, and girls track and field at both Greenwich High and St. Mary’s of Greenwich for 55 years. Mongovan had 431 cross country wins and 731 victories overall and was inducted into the FCIAC Hall of Fame in 2005.
The fund is a non-profit organization created by over a dozen former cross country and track athletes in memory of Mongovan’s contributions in those sports not just in Greenwich but across the state and country.
Former Greenwich runner Alex Kosyakov and a few others began the GoFundMe campaign Dec. 24.
Maddie Robinson, a 2018 Greenwich graduate who ran hurdles for Mongovan, quickly got involved and began helping to spread the word and raise money.
“I got involved because I was close to Mongo and I realize how much he meant to not just me but so many athletes over the years,” Robinson said. “I grew so close with Mongo in high school. He first got me to try the hurdles. Then he would spend time with me after school and on weekends helping me work toward my goals. The whole time he would be telling me stories about all these athletes he worked with over the years and he was incredible in the way he could remember names and details. There was such a huge network of people that came into his life through all those years coaching and he seemed to remember them all.”
Robinson said that all came full circle when she returned to a Greenwich practice on a break from college and was approached by a young runner she had never met.
“A freshman came up to me and said ‘You are Maddie? Mongo was talking about you the other day.’ I had become one of his stories,” Robinson said. “Mongo changed my life when I was in high school by making me believe in myself. I wrote one of my college essays about him. He helped so many kids believe in themselves.”
Robinson said the money raised will go toward costs of memorial efforts for Mongovan who touched countless athlete’s lives during his time in Greenwich.
Robinson said they hope to have a physical memorial to him, possibly in the form of a record board near the track.
After the memorial, the remainder of the funds will be used to create a scholarship for outstanding Greenwich High School student-athletes who live up to the ideals of sportsmanship that Mongovan preached.
“There was no one like Mongo,” Robinson said. “He always put in so much effort to help kids realize their dreams. We want to keep going what he started and want future runners at Greenwich to know his name and know that someone believes in them the way Mongo believed in us. We want to pay it forward and even though Mongo can’t be there, his spirit always can.”
Kosyakov, also a 2018 Greenwich graduate, wrote on the GoFundMe page: “Mongo was a selfless, caring, joyful man who knew everything there was to know about the sport and had a joke for every circumstance. For instance, the Greenwich Point cross country trails seemed to always stay magically trimmed, properly marked, and cleaned up after storms. Really, it was Mongo taking time before and after weekend practices to make sure his athletes had the best conditions to train and compete.”
As of Jan. 6, $2,461.00 has been raised for the fund.
Mongovan was considered a pioneer of girls cross country in Connecticut, watching it go from a club sport to full varsity status during his time in Greenwich.
He was introduced to the sport of track and field as a seventh grader at Norwood Academy in Philadelphia. When members of his physical education class were taken to the Penn Relays in April 1955, Mongovan suddenly lost his interest in baseball and found track and field. Little did he realize that it would be part of him for the rest of his life.
In 2005, 50 years later, he took two relay teams from Greenwich High School to run in the Penn Relays.
After his death, current Greenwich cross country and track coach Evan Dubin said Mongovan’s impact on the Greenwich community was clear.
“I never met anyone like Mongo. Never have and never will, he was truly one-of-a-kind. A Greenwich legend,” Dubin said. “If you think about coaching cross country, indoor and outdoor track for over 50 years and all the kids and all the parents he had an impact on, it’s incredible. If you walked down the street in Greenwich, five out of 10 people you stopped would know Mongo. My words can’t do him justice.”