County's longest running foot race underscores importance of all youth sports Cougar Stampede on Sunday, May 20 starting at Lodestar Park
Volunteer coaches are vital to the existence of The Bears Youth Running Program. From left, Bridget O'Keefe, Emily Ward, Ali Schutte, Gavin DeYoung, Devin Johnstone, Mark Young and Dillon Johnstone.
Photo by Laurie Gordon
By Laurie Gordon FREDON — On Sunday, May 20, starting at 1 pm, an epic event will take place at Lodestar Park in Fredon. The Stampede 5K is the longest-running race in Sussex County, and through its 23-year tenure, it has re-invented itself along the way to keep up with the times. This year, the race is evolving once again and has joined forces with the Kittatinny Cougar Athletic Association, a vital organization that perpetuates Kittatinny Regional High School athletics. This unprecedented coalition is a huge testament to the importance of keeping all sports thriving for our kids. Don't miss The Cougar Stampede. The Stampede has always benefited the Bears Youth Running Program, a three-season production staffed entirely by volunteer coaches with the common passion for instilling the many physical and mental positives of running in our youth. This year, the race will also benefit the Kittatinny Cougar Athletic Association which is a vital and often behind-the-scenes group that promotes all sports at Kittatinny Regional High School. “The KCAA is always looking for new and fun ideas to raise money for the student athletes at Kittatinny," said Steve Russell, the president of the Kittatinny Cougar Athletic Association (KCAA). "We saw a need to add an event that would get the attention of a new crowd that we don't normally work with. A 5K race was discussed but no one on the committee had ever been involved in a 5K. From my past involvement with the Fredon Rec Commission, I knew The Stampede was always a great event and it seemed to be a perfect match for the KCAA.” “We raise money to produce the popular 'Week of Lights,' offer scholarships to many of the graduating athletes, purchase championship apparel for teams, host a Senior Awards Banquet and raise funds for the new weight room facility, to name a few things we do for the sports programs,” Russell said. “Our goal is to get all athletes involved in helping each other. The KCAA assists all sports, but it's hard if not impossible for us to hold an event for each sport. Running is a common thread for all athletes in that it helps develop strength, endurance and confidence. We are asking coaches to get their athletes involved and the sport that has the highest percentage of participation will receive a special team gift from the KCAA.” Kittatinny Regional High School's president, Brian Bosworth, said, “The KCAA provides support to all student-athletes at Kittatinny. The community members involved in the organization spend a lot of time and energy putting together events, like the Cougar Stampede, that help to financially support our athletic program. In this time of very tight budgets, the KCAA helps to provide much-needed resources to our sports teams. The money that they raise not only goes to our programs, but also goes to scholarships that allow our student-athletes to pursue collegiate opportunities.” Bosworth added that the school district is geographically large, covering over 125 square miles, "So community-type events are very important to bringing our Kittatinny family together. This race, along with other events throughout the year, allow our students and community to have some fun and raise money for something that is close to all of us. This race truly embodies what we are all about.” “Aside from their tremendous support financially, they (KCAA) have also taken an active role in supporting positive sportsmanship," Kittatinny's Athletic Director Chris Carroll said, "I personally would like to thank KCAA President Steven Russell and his administration team who oversee this organization and thank them for their many hours of service and support of our athletic programs and most importantly our student-athletes. Our district is truly fortunate to have such caring and giving individuals." The race The Cougar Stampede 5K course is three loops that take runners through bucolic Lodestar Park. A DJ will be playing music which runners and walkers can hear throughout the course. The Mile Fun Run will be a single loop on a paved course, and spectators will be able to see the fun runners throughout. One of the hallmarks of the event is the post-race home baked goods. This year, these will include Windy Brow Farms' famous cider doughnuts. There will be valuable gift certificates for the top three male and female finishers in the 5K and age group prizes in 10 year divisions. Each Mile Run finisher will receive a prize. There will also be custom-designed t-shirts. Stillwater sixth grader, Collin Webb, who has participated in The Bears for many years, will sing The National Anthem. The Bears The Bears Youth Running Program wouldn't be what it is without its volunteer coaches. This year's volunteer coaches include: Gavin DeYoung, Devin Johnstone, Dillon Johnstone, Mark Young, Bridget O'Keefe, Emily Ward and Ali Schutte. DeYoung went through the Bears program and then started volunteering in the fall of 2014 as a coach. “I love coaching for the youth running program because I want to give the kids the encouragement and love for the sport that I was given when I was in the program,” he said. “It is important to encourage kids at such a young age to know the benefit of running because it helps show them responsibility, and where that responsibility will take them next." The Johnstones also went through the Bears Program. Dillon Johnstone just finished his freshman year at Northeastern University. He said, “Helping out with Bears is great because my time spent volunteering directly translates into creating excitement towards running for the next generation of runners. Each year that I run the Stampede, I am reminded of the strong and accepting local running community. This is easily my favorite part of the race because I see so many people come together to welcome the new runners, congratulate the veterans, and encourage the well-trained to continue down their competitive but cooperative path.” Devin Johnstone runs for North Warren High School. "I enjoy coaching with the Bears because it gives me an opportunity to introduce younger children to a sport that not only promotes a healthy life, but it is a sport that creates long lasting friendships and lets them continue the same activity for the rest of their lives," he said. "The Stampede is a wonderful race due to it being one of my favorite courses, with the perfect amount of hills. The race director also accentuates this race by lightening the mood at the starting line, and humorous remarks during the post race awards.” “I really enjoy working with the kids who are beginners and watching them improve,” Mark Young said. Schutte and Ward will be this fall's Cross Country Captains at Kittatinny. Schutte said, “It feels good to put the love of running into young kids just as coaches did for me when I was their age. It feels great to give back to the sport that has done so much for me.” “Helping coach at Bears is a great experience that allows me to share my passion for running with kids," said Ward, herself a Bears alumnus. "This program has helped me discover my love for running at a young age and I hope I can encourage these kids to continue with running or any sport.” The importance of sports The Kittatinny Cougar Athletic Association and The Bears Youth Running Program both believe that, through sports, kids gain self-confidence, learn the importance of goal-setting and reap the benefits of being a part of a team. In today's society, participating in a sport also speaks loudly toward getting kids outside and away from social media and technology to push themselves physically and enjoy camaraderie while doing something healthy for their bodies. Sports can show kids that their goals can be reached and their dreams can come true if they do the necessary work. The Cougar Stampede will be a gathering of kids, coaches, teachers and community from all over the area coming together to celebrate all youth sports. It isn't about beating each other in a race, coaches say. It's about being with one another while doing something healthy and supporting two amazing causes that promote athleticism. Sponsors include the Law Office of Jeffrey S. Katz, the KCAA, the Back on Track Agency, Lakeland Bank, Kittatinny Chiropractic & Wellness Center, Windy Brow and Andover Hunt & Fish. For info call 973-362-8006 or e-mail BearsRunningClub@aol.com. Register on line at: www.thekcaa.org/ and click on 5K Race. Day-of-Race registration will open at 11 am at Lodestar Park. The park is located on County Road 610 and though it is in Fredon, for the GPS, put in “Newton.” Cost is $20 pre-registration and $25 the day of. “One of the things I love about the Stampede, besides the course and the fact that you can hear music throughout, is that over the years they have never raised the price,” said long-time Stampede runner Bill Bosmann. “I think that a big reason for the race's longevity is they didn't follow what many other races do and raise the price each year. The coalition of these two non-profits this year is phenomenal to keep our youth active.”