By Dixie Pettit
More than 100 elementary schoolchildren converged on the James Dukes’ campus track to participate in the annual cross-country invitational.
“I am not sure which year this is for the run, but it is the longest-standing (continuous) one,” said teacher Sarie Imonen, the run’s co-organizer. “(Teacher)
Randy Schimpf started the first one over at Barnett more than 14 years ago.”
Inspired by Schimpf, James Dukes teacher Craig Croman began the event at James Dukes Elementary, said Imonen.
The course is laid out over 1.3 miles on the campus and surrounding streets. There are areas of pavement, dirt, loose gravel, uneven ground and hills for each participant to overcome.
Staff members are situated at points along the run with radios to ensure the safety of the students. Cones, tape and paint mark easy-to-follow boundaries so runners don’t get lost or inadvertently drift too far into the street.
Each run is broken into grade level for third- through sixth-graders, with the boys and girls running separately. Though timed separately, this year the sixth-grade girls and boys ran together.
As each group of students took turns at the starting point, others lined up along the track screaming encouragement to the runners. From the fastest first place finishers to the last, tion was far more evident than even the perspiration on each one.
About 100 voices blended together in a wave of excitement. “C’mon! You can do it! You’re almost there! Woo-hoo! Go! Go! Go!” could be heard across the field. One runner, wanting to give up about halfway through the course, had another runner turn around and go back to help her finish. She took the student’s hand and said, “C’mon! You can do it!” and ran with her to the final stretch.
“Stories like those,” said Imonen, “are the reasons we do this.”
First-place finisher for the fifth grade, Seneca Curo, ran with sixth-grade brother Cameron for the final stretch. Running through the pain, a triumphant Cameron crossed the finish line while his sister silently ducked under the tape and to the side.
As an example that age or size does not matter, the fastest times did not come from the sixth-grade group. For the girls, a fourth-grader from Ramona Community School took home the honors. Amy Brown, 10, won the trophy for “fastest girl” with a time of 8:33.
Fifth-grader Jaedon Gotowala, also 10, from James Dukes, finished first among all boys with a time of 7:42.
Imonen credits the dedication of staff at James Dukes Elementary for the success and consistency of the invitational.
The run “usually takes place around Veterans week or Thanksgiving, though it has had to be postponed at times due to rain,” she said. “Notices are sent in October to all schools within the Ramona district and any elementary students within the district are allowed to participate.”
Imonen coordinates the invitational with fellow teacher Ashli Krainock, but stressed it is the “teachers who keep it going year after year. The teachers staff the run, volunteer on race day and monitor the course … We started teaching because we are here for the kids and it is not just what happens in the classroom.”
Is it easy? “No. It can be exhausting putting it all together. Everyone has other commitments. Everyone is busy. But then we just make it happen for the kids. This is what it is all about, right?”