By Bill McGuire

The hills are tough, and the weather always seems to be hot and humid. But there are t-shirts for all runners, and the Sno-Kone man is on the scene, so this event is still a favorite of Leon County middle schoolers and Gretchen Everhart athletes alike. It’s the Everhart Owl Run, and a record number of participants were on hand for the 15th annual edition, which was held Thursday, Sept. 30, 2004.

Among the V.I.P.s on hand for the festivities included State Representative Loranne Ausley (who is also a Gulf Winds Track Club member), and Ward Spisso, Executive Director of Leon County Schools Exceptional Student Education. Another distinguished guest on hand was coaching legend Harry Jacobs, who was invited as this year’s featured speaker. Mr. Jacobs is an Assistant Principal at Jefferson County High School, as well as the father of an Everhart student, Evan. One of his other sons, Taylor, currently plays for the Washington Redskins of the National Football League. Mr. Jacobs is also one of the most successful high school track coaches in the history of Florida. His eleven consecutive state championships for boys’ track at F.A.M.U. High School is a state record. Coach Jacobs gave a low-key, but inspiring, talk to the runners. He stressed the importance of lifetime fitness, and mentioned how he had developed his own physical conditioning by running as a young man.

After Mr. Jacobs brief pep talk, it was “off to the races”! The Everhart runners went first, and a large and enthusiastic group it was! This year, the Everhart seniors joined in the run, adding to the strictly middle school field of the past several years. After a spirited battle up front, it was Murice Shuler emerging victorious over the other 41 finishers. Clarence Jones was second, and Jason Thompson, third. Thompson treated the crowd to a spontaneous cartwheel as he sprinted down the final straightaway (the first time). He then continued past the finish line, and proceeded to run another entire loop of the course! The first Everhart girl to finish, Classie Lewis, was a repeat winner, having also won last year’s race. Marjawana Morris and Erica Mann finished second and third. Ian (“I WON last place”) Haedick, defended his 2003 “final finisher” title to rousing cheers from the crowd.

The Middle School Girls’ Race was up next, and it was dominated by Mallory Alonzo of Raa, who gradually opened a large lead over the entire field. By the time she crossed the finish line in 14:01, she had built a 33 second lead over Courtney Whitehead of Swift Creek. Whitehead’s performance was, in itself, quite impressive, as she managed to put 32 seconds between herself and third place finisher, Raa’s Summer Shepherd. Raa steamrolled runner-up Deer Lake and the rest of the field for the team championship, scoring 22 points and putting six girls in the top nine!

If the Owl Run seemed bigger this year, it’s because it WAS! Not only did the Everhart section approximately double in size, but the middle school boys’ race grew from 120 finishers in 2003, to 159 this year…an increase of 33%! It’s great to see more kids participating in fitness activities like cross country, and the Owl Run is proud to be a part of this trend. But regardless of the number of runners,
Cobb’s Graham Hawkes was clearly the class of the boys’ field, running an excellent 11:51 to best runner-up Will Stanford of Raa by 32 seconds. Stanford edged out Swift Creek’s Kurt Dietrich by two seconds for second place. In the boys’ team division, Raa again ran away with the title, scoring 33 points to Swift Creek’s 56.

At the awards ceremony following the races, commemorative plaques were awarded to Shannon Sullivan of Sports Beat and to Gulf Winds Track Club for their loyal and generous support of the Owl Run. Sullivan and the track club’s Chenoweth Committee, with help from Leon County Schools Student Activities Office, have underwritten the entire cost of the popular Owl Run t-shirts for the past several years. Our sincere thanks to these folks for making sure every Owl Run participant goes home with a top quality race t-shirt!
Thanks are also in order for Pat Erwin of Balloons Unlimited for (once again) donating and arranging that great array of balloons for the “Big Bend’s Greatest Finish Line”! Kudos as well to several student groups who came to help from various parts of the city. Track club member and Godby E.S.E. teacher Chris Sumner brought his Community Based Instruction class for a lesson in community service. And a group of Leon High School runners traveled to Everhart to aid their middle school counterparts.

A huge debt of gratitude is owed to the Gulf Winds Track Club, who lend us their equipment free of charge each year, and to their members who so generously donate their time to this event. Special mention to Ray Hanlon and Bill Lott, who assemble the entire finish area in such festive and unique fashion, and who time all the runners and manage the finish line, year after year. Lamons Warren and Marilynn Wills once again expertly handled all the scoring and results. Track club members Julie Clark, Joe Crook, Jimmy Kalfas, Maria Vives-Rodriquez, Lori Willner and children, Samuel and Mycah Rose, Andrew Wills, Jere and Kay Moore, and Christopher McGuire all worked the entire morning to make sure the Owl Run was a safe and successful event. Many had to take leave time from work. These folks are the BEST!

The Everhart parents came through for the Owl Run once again, by conducting the annual bake and beverage sale while their children ran. Many of those who couldn’t volunteer sent donations for the sale. Parent and Gretchen Everhart School webmaster extraordinaire, Clyde Benedix, was on hand to capture all the action on his digital camera, as was the track club’s John Kalin. Both gentlemen were kind enough to provide all their photos to race director Bill McGuire via c.d. This enabled Bill to make copies for the middle school coaches to share with their runners.

In reading over this race report, it is obvious that these words do not do justice to the event itself. But there is a better way to learn more about the Owl Run, and that is to come out to next year’s edition. Of course, we’d love to have you volunteer. But we appreciate spectators, as well. To really get a feel for what the Owl Run is about, you need to be there in person, to see and experience the effort, energy and joy that all these young people put forth. So, try to make it in 2005. I promise you, you’ll be glad you came.

Complete ’04 results.