BUCKHANNON -- "Daddy Dearth."
It is one of the best nicknames in the MEC track and field world, but it fits the diminutive Matt Dearth, West Virginia Wesleyan's senior runner. With five First-Team All-Conference plaques, and a pair of All-Region plaques on his wall (These seven all include both cross country and track), he has made an indelible mark on the school and the league.
"That nickname is something that has stuck with him through his career here," Wesleyan head cross country coach Jesse Skiles said. "He is just a serious dude. His approach is something that you just don't see out of a lot of college age kids...he has been a true leader for our program."
Dearth has earned First Team All-Conference three times in cross country. He finished fifth in 2014, helping lead the Bobcats to the league title. He placed fourth in 2015, and third 2016, leading the team to runner-up finishes each year.
In track, Dearth raced to an MEC title in the 10,000 in 2016, and won the 5,000 meter run in last May's league championships. He accumulated over 35 championship points for WVWC in track, and finished ranked in the region last Spring. Last March, he eclipsed the 15-minute barrier for 5k, racing to a 14:54, an average of 4:47 per mile. His crowning moment came last March, when he eclipsed the 10,000-meter school record of program icon Nate Edwards in a race at Washington University in St. Louis. His record-setting time was 31:18, an average of just over 5-minutes per mile.
Edwards, the current head coach at Glenville State, was on the Wesleyan staff during the recruitment of Dearth and during his freshman year.
"It means a lot to me that I am now mentioned in the same breath of someone like Coach Edwards," Dearth said. "I know what he means to this program and also to Coach Skiles. It is definitely not something that I will never take for granted."
Dearth began running recreationally as a youth, but soccer was his primary sport growing up. He spent much of his career as a midfielder in the Bridgeport leagues, playing in some highly successful teams at various levels; U-8, U-10, U-12, and U-14. He also played on the ODP team of Wesleyan's veteran head coach Gavin Donaldson.
Dearth's track career began as an eighth grade runner for Bridgeport Middle School. It was that Spring, at the age of 14 that he started dating his girlfriend Rachel Fulks. Little did he know at the time, but his future would be tied from that point on...to this sport...and this girl.
Dearth's dad Bill was a multi-sport athlete at St. Mary's High School in the 70's. He began logging miles on the bike in his early 20's and has been a successful road racer many age groups throughout his career. Matt credits his mother as being the stabilizing force behind the success of both the elder and the younger Dearth throughout their running careers. She was a swimmer and a volleyball player at McKeesport High School in western Pennsylvania.
At Bridgeport High, his career started strong as he was one of the top freshmen in the state, and placed 11th at the Class AAA regional. He went on to a 10:08 3200 on the track that Spring.
This is where his career and life took a drastic left turn.
"In December of my ninth grade year it started happening...I could tell things just weren't right. I was struggling on my runs and I couldn't stay awake at school. The condition kept getting worse, and by February it was difficult to even get through school and back."
At this point his family took the step to get him some more extensive tests. The results proved that he had a severe case of mononucleosis, and a strain of the Epstein's Bar virus. With the situation worsening, Dearth was admitted to Children's Hospital in Pittsburgh.
This was a tough time for Dearth and his family, as he fought the fight from February until August, before he gradually began to regain strength. His weight went from the upper 120's to down below 100 pounds during the fight.
"I can't say enough about the support I had from my girlfriend Rachel during that whole episode," Dearth said. "She visited me at my house every day after school/practice, for hours at a time. Looking back at it now, it is amazing that a girl at that age would make those kind of sacrifices in her own life to be there for me...I don't think too many would."
For over a year, Dearth tried to work on his comeback. He states that it was perhaps more exhausting mentally than it was physically, getting beat by guys he had beaten easily before the sickness.
Gradually, he made it back to form, and helped lead the Indians to a pair of state titles, one in cross country and one in track. Under the tutelage of Coach Jon Griffith, and running with D-I recruit Abe Merinar as a teammate, it was the start of a Golden Age for Bridgeport Track and Cross Country. By the Winter of 2014, Dearth was playing the recruiting game.
Wesleyan was on his short list from the beginning, and after taking his visit, the Bobcats shot to the top.
"I saw a group of guys who were all good friends, and it was a true family atmosphere," Dearth said. "Coach Skiles was interested in my well-being as a person and a student, and you could tell that he was passionate about the sport. He shot straight with me...he told me if I did everything he asked me to do exactly, that I would get a lot faster...he told the truth."
Dearth's impact was immediate for the Bobcats. He remembers running a 26:26 8K at Lock Haven as a breakthrough race. That November, while teammate Nate Whitacre rolled to league MVP honors, Dearth placed a strong fifth as the Bobcats won the MEC title.
From there, his career has been an historic ride. He is hoping to add some additional laurels to the Bobcat trophy case before he graduates next May. His future plans are in cyber security systems.
"With what is happening in the world right now, that would be an ideal way for me to serve our society and the country in a good way," Dearth said.
Still...there was one last piece of unfinished business for Dearth to tend to; one seven years and four months in the making. After the team's annual camp tempo in August, run high on the mountain on the Canaan Loop Ridge, the large crew of 30 Bobcats and the coaching staff gathered for their post-practice meeting. When Skiles gave his team captain the floor to speak...it was time.
The ultra-serious "Daddy Dearth" finally showed his softer side.
He got on his knee and asked Miss Rachel Fulks to be fiancé'.
She said yes.