PLAINVILLE — Led by a prancing turkey, nearly 200 runners and walkers in the “Thanks for Giving” 5K circled the neighborhoods around the Middle School of Plainville and raised around half the money needed to reinstate the school’s defunded spring sports program.
“Really proud of our community. That’s the best thing about our community, when there’s a need people come together,” said Superintendent of Schools Steven LePage, who ran with a number 1 on his bib as the first person to register. He estimated that Saturday’s race will cover around $7,000 of the $12,000 needed to run the spring season — which includes track, baseball and softball.
“I can pretty much guarantee you we’re going to have spring sports after this event,” he said, adding he’ll find a way to make up the difference even if it “requires me to get pied or taped to a wall.”
The spring season was defunded by the Board of Education to make up a $100,000 cut in school spending approved by the Town Council after voters rejected the original $38.3 million school budget by referendum on April 30. The spring sports were selected to give the district time to look for cost savings or ways of raising money to fund the programs.
Sara Limmer, one of the parents who organized the race, said the turnout blew away their expectations.
A cross section of the town came together to support the student athletes, she said, including players on teams not impacted by the cuts and members of the Board of Education and Town Council. Even MSP’s principal, Matthew Guarino, ran in the kid’s fun in his turkey costume, not letting a single child cross the finish line before him.
“Hopefully we all learned a lesson to support what needs to be supported,” Limmer said.
As a former track runner at MSP and Plainville High School and now an assistant track coach at PHS, Ryan Acey had the experience to propel him to first place Saturday, but right on his heels were many of his own students. He said introducing students to sports at the middle school level isn’t just important to start fostering talent on the field; sports can help them get through an especially trying period in many kids’ adolescence creating new relationships.
“You build all those bonds early (and) they can last through high school,” he said.
Penley Giola, an 8th grader at MSP on the track team, said it would be “completely horrible” to not be able to compete during her last months before graduating to the high school.
“It’s important to me to keep running because my mom just got out of surgery and she’s already run eight marathons. So I’m doing this to support her,” she said.
Andrew Sargis, a senior at PHS, said he and his track teammates became worried that younger students wouldn’t have the same opportunities that they had, inspiring them to organize older kids to participate in the race.
“We tried to get a big amount so we could support the middle school,” he said. Getting into track at MSP gave him structure and got him into the mindset of setting goals for himself.
“I got worried right away that some of the middle schoolers might not do high schools sports, especially track,” he said.
LePage credited parents and student athletes — both at MSP and high schoolers who got their start there — with making the event a success. For the youth especially, he said the number of students who ran showed how ingrained the district’s values had become; when programs they depend on became threatened they leapt into action to make sure they remained in place.
“I’m really proud to be a superintendent in this town. It’s a great community,” he said.