Watchful Eyes Oversee Owl Run 2008

Bill McGuire, September 27, 2008

It seemed like “everybody who is anybody” was on hand for the 2008 edition of the Everhart Owl Run. Leon County Schools Superintendent Jackie Pons showed up; Everhart Principal Jane Floyd Bullen and Asst. Principal Kent Hamilton were greeting folks and lending a hand; FSU head Cross-Country and Track & Field Coach Bob Braman gave an enthusiastic pep talk. The Tallahassee Democrat was there; so was WCTV. Even some cool fall weather made a surprise appearance.

And I’m pretty sure I felt the spirits of recently departed Owl Run friends Jere Moore and Mike Schneider, to whom this year’s event was dedicated. They seemed to be hovering over the proceedings from above their empty chairs near the finish line, cheering on the enthusiastic Everhart squad, as well as the record-sized middle school field.

Coach Braman has won three consecutive National Outdoor Track and Field Championships in his six years as head coach of the Seminoles. Yet despite his busy schedule (just two days before the F.S.U. Invitational XC meet), Coach Braman generously agreed to speak to the Owl Run athletes before this year’s event. His animated “pep talk” was brief, but inspirational, as he exhorted the runners to help and encourage each other while out on the course….whether it be a teammate or a competitor from another school. 

As in past years, the Everhart race was first up, shortly after several members of the school’s chorus sang the “Star Spangled Banner” to get the day started. Once again, “Mr. Bill” used his bicycle as a pace vehicle in an attempt to keep the runners from exhausting themselves in the mad downhill dash off the starting line. Everyone heeded the “stay behind the bike” warning, although “walk breaks” still seemed to be the order of the day.

At the end, it was Kevin Taquine crossing the “Arc de Balloons” finish line in 1st place, with a time of 3:38. It was his first Owl Run win. Taquine was followed by James Byrd and John Hunter, in 2nd and 3rd. Nobody beats Classie Lewis, and she proved it again by finishing 4th overall and first in the girl’s division for the 5th consecutive year! Her 4:00 bettered her time from last year by 8 seconds. Erica Perry duplicated her 2007 2nd place finish, and Edna Foxworth was the 3rd open girl. Shawntia Williams put on a one-woman display of spirit and determination by finishing a shortened course using her walker. She came across the finish line in 5:06. And Ian Haedicke again proudly “won” last place, reclaiming the spot he first occupied three years ago.

Last year, Raa’s Will Henderson showed that he could win a close race. This season, he has repeatedly proven that he can also win by a bunch. At the Owl Run, he ran by himself the entire way, winning by a comfortable 20 seconds over teammate Cameron Wong. BelleVue’s Seddrick Williams finished 3rd, after running a strong 2nd for nearly the entire race. Henderson’s time of 11:43 was a personal best, and moved him to 3rd on the All-Time Owl Run list, behind only Raa’s Will Stanford and Griffin’s Joe Franklin. He also becomes the first ever to win the boys’ race two years in a row!

Someday, somewhere, Raa is going to lose a middle school cross country team competition. But not at the Owl Run this year. Despite losing a couple of their top boys to the new Montford Middle School, and having a top scorer get sick and drop out of the Owl Run, the Rams still found a way to win, beating runner-up Swift Creek by 16 points. The team race for third couldn’t have been closer, as BelleVue and Deerlake both finished with 78 points. In cross country, the team score is tabulated by adding the finishing places of the top 5 runners, lowest score winning. In this case, the total score for each team’s top five was the same, but the tie went to Deerlake, because their 6th man finished ahead of BelleVue’s 6th runner.

As good as Will Henderson’s race was, it was the girls’ race that produced the day’s most outstanding performance….and, in fact, the greatest individual performance in Owl Run history!! Deerlake’s Cici Williams improved by over 2 minutes from last year’s race, and with her 11:56, became the first girl to run under 12 minutes in the history of the Owl Run! And if any girl in Leon County has ever gone below 12:00 as a middle schooler, we sure can’t find evidence of it! And she’s only in 7th grade!!  How good was Cici’s race? Well, not only is it over 30 seconds faster than Carly Thomas’ great 2007 course record, but no 7th grade boy has ever come close to her time.

Even the great Joe Franklin, who was a state track champion as a 9th grader, ran over 30 seconds slower than Cici at the Owl Run when he was in 7th grade!  Raa’s Rachel Givens is the defending Leon County Middle Schools champion in cross country, and as a 7th grade last year, was the best middle school girl Tallahassee had ever seen in the sport. Yet despite running the 3rd fastest time ever in the Owl Run, Rachel was still nearly 50 seconds behind Cici in Thursday’s race. She still displayed a lot of courage as she ran tough the whole way, despite suffering painful side cramps for the vast majority of the race.  Camille Baker of Raa ran a fine 13:08 to finish in 3rd place, and to help the Rams dominate the girls’ team division with a super-low 22 points. (That makes 6 straight titles for Raa!) Cobb had their best showing since winning the Owl Run title in 2000, finishing in 2nd place with 68 points. And Swift Creek was only a single point back, with a total of 69!

Once again, a superb group of volunteers helped make the Owl Run the highlight of the middle school cross country season, and a unique event that fosters interaction and mutual respect beween “typical” youngsters and their developmentally challenged peers at Everhart. 
The Gulf Winds Track Club lent their equipment as well as a lot of very skilled manpower to the cause. Godby Cross Country coach Chris Sumner again generously donated the flags that mark the course and decorate the athletic field so effectively. Ray Hanlon and Bill Lott were, as always, the volunteer lynchpins of the event. They were on site before dawn to put together the renowned “Arc de balloons” finish line, and to artistically deploy every stanchion and traffic cone in the GWTC arsenal.

They also oversaw all finish line activities, and it was quite a group they had at their disposal. Among others, Joe Crook and Heather Bochnia, Gary and Peg Griffin, Lisa Unger, Bonnie Wright and Jerri Hannah, David Yon, Christopher McGuire, J.D. Warren, and Myron Herring.  Marilynn Wills and Lamons Warren first volunteered at the inaugural Leon County Middle Schools Cross Country Championships 19 years ago, and they’re still at it! Between them, they pre-printed finish labels for all runners, and also collected, coordinated and printed out all individual and team results….all in the most accurate and timely way imaginable!

The Gretchen Everhart PTO once again spearheaded the event from the school’s end. Everhart parent and GWTC member Terry Massa reprised her role as Assistant Race Director. Teresa Gay and husband, Joe, handled all t-shirt duties, from designing and bidding them out, to ordering and picking them up, transporting, organizing, labeling, and dispersing them at the race site. Clyde Benedix supervised traffic/parking control, and doubled as race photographer.

Deborah Taube and Linda Ray headed up the bake sale, and helped coordinate the other parent volunteers. Special thanks to Everhart teachers Brenda Rice, who set up the P.A. and conducted the Everhart chorus members in the national anthem, and to Fran Simmons for her great artwork on the Owl Run signs, traffic and otherwise. Likewise, kudos to Ricky Bell and Glenda Culbreth of L.C.S. Student Activities, for their faithful and generous support year after year.

Well, the 2008 Owl Run is history. The balloons have all been popped, and the flags have been taken down and packed away. The buses have carried the students back to their respective schools and the Sno-Cone man has packed up and left. The runners’ performances are in the books. Once again, all is quiet on the athletic field behind Everhart School. But early this evening, just after finishing this write-up in my school portable classroom, I leaned back and closed my aching eyes for just a minute.

When I opened them (or were they still closed?), I was staring out the window, and saw some movement in the far corner of the “Owl Run” field. I couldn’t be sure, but there seemed to be two forms moving along through the twilight. And as I squinted to see what was going on, I was able to make out two silhouettes, jogging easily in the darkening shadows. I couldn’t see their faces, but their running strides, unique to every individual, seemed familiar. A few seconds went by as I tried to match those running styles with the names they belonged to, and then it came to me. I was gazing at the forms of Jere Moore and “Coach” Mike Schneider, as they slowly disappeared into the oncoming darkness of the crisp autumn evening. Good night, gentlemen.