For the second year the Howell Township Education Foundation held a 5K run/walk at Middle School South to help raise money for the district.
At the inaugural "Race to Educate" last year, just over 150 runners took to the course with that number doubled this time around. Mark Ackermann, the chairman of the foundation said the larger showing is evidence of why they started the race in the first place. "When you try to raise money for different organizations it's always important to find the right event for your organization and for your town," he said. "Our town is known as having many runners, many people who try to keep fit and do the best they can."
Ackermann credited the Freehold Running Club with helping to make the event a success, including the food and drinks for the runners and the timing mechanisms so they could see just how quickly they'd run the course through the neighborhood.
While the race included plenty of runners who have had success in racing in the past, there were also plenty of people who ran or walked as a family to get exercise for everybody. That, Ackermann said, is a big part of the reason why the event was started. "We think it's a great opportunity for families to come and help raise money for our school program," he said.
Not only were parents and students a part of the race, but there were also plenty of teachers and administrators who woke up early on the Saturday morning to help their district and their schools. The school with the most amount of entrants based on their total enrollment would also win a $1000 grant from the foundation, making participation that much more important.
As of Saturday morning it was believed that the nearby Ramtown School had won that prize and the school's principal Albert Bohrer was one of the administrators who walked the course. Bohrer said he was glad to be a part of the day and see how successful it was. "In our estimation it's a great community," he said. "It's 12 schools, one community. It's a great cause that ultimately supports the students."
Bohrer finished the course in just over 55 minutes which put him well off the blazing pace set by the race's winner Jeff DiChiara. As a former runner for CBA and Princeton University, DiChiara said this was his second year competing in the race and he once again enjoyed the experience. "It was a perfect day," he said. "Flat course, pretty quick, it was nice."
Needing just 16:30 to finish the course, DiChiara said he was pleased with the way the day went. "I was hoping for a little faster but I'm going to take it. It was a nice day, I had fun so that's all that matters," he said.
The female winner was also a product of the Shore Conference who went on to success at the college level. Lindsay Ritchings made a name for herself as one of the best runners in the history of Point Pleasant Beach before thriving at the University of Maryland. Now she is running for a team sponsored by New Balance down near Washington DC.
With her mother teaching at Ardena School Ritchings said that was why she was up early on a Saturday morning to run. "She kind of dragged me out of bed," Ritchings said with a laugh. "It was fun. It was a flat course which is good. I was not ready to tackle any hills but it was a fun course." The flat course clearly suited Ritchings well as she finished in a little over 19 minutes which was just fine with her. "If I ran under 20 I was happy," she said.
The day gave runners of every age and skill level a chance to take part, including 79-year-old Toms River resident Joe Placente. His goal was not to finish with a good time, but rather to represent a cause he holds dear to his heart. Carrying the Stars and Stripes over his shoulder the Korean War veteran said he was not running for himself. He is rather running, "On behalf of all my veterans and my country." he said.
Even people who are not used to competing in long distance races came out for the event. Point Pleasant Borough native Ryan Canary made a name for himself as a football player for the Panthers and at the University of Maine, but on this day was supporting his girlfriend who is a teacher at Middle School North. Finishing the course in 31 minutes, Canary said that while it was not something he was used to, he enjoyed it all the same. "I was actually hoping for somewhere in the 40's so I was pretty excited," he said. "It was a good workout, and a chance to get up and go on a Saturday. Usually I don't do this type of thing on a Saturday."
With a successful event in the books Ackermann said the foundation is on its way to continuing to help the district. "This is just our fifth year so we're fledgling but we're doing pretty well so far," he said. "We're growing and getting more people involved and it's going really well."