By John Goralski
Elementary school runners gathered in groups of three at the mobile band stage at the town green as winners were announced for the 2012 Apple Harvest Road Race. The crowd of onlookers stretched past the gazebo and across the town green.
On Sunday, Apple Harvest Road Race Director John Myers stood atop the stage like a rock star as throngs of people cheered his every word and cameras flashed as winners clutched trophies in the center of the crowd.
“When you’re down here at the end of the race and you see how many people came out—not just the runners—it was a lot of fun,” Myers said. “The green was totally packed. Center Street was packed. This has become much more than just a running event. There are people supporting runners. We had a ton of kids this year—more kids than ever. It really is amazing.”
Many of the young runners were part of the Y Cup competition. This year, invitations were sent to the town’s elementary schools to attract three-person relay teams to compete in the 5K race. Thirteen relays competed, and the 5th grade boys team from Plantsville Elementary School captured the title.
John Conway, Kade Huange-Savino, and Zane Chubet combined for a time of 25:36 to beat 12 other teams. The trio will be honored in a presentation at their school, and the trophy will remain there until next year.
Each year, Myers announces a new wrinkle to the annual event, and each time the event attracts more and more competitors. It has become a community festival as thousands challenge the four courses while hundreds of spectators cheer every step. It serves as the opening kick-off for the parade events. It serves as a reunion for Southington High School graduates and a welcome wagon event for new members of the community.
“People are talking about it earlier and earlier. They start training a couple of months ahead of time,” said Myers. “For some people, this might be their first 5K. That’s exciting, too. Even on the older side, we’re getting people that are making their first journey into running.”
The annual road race event continues to grow, and this year broke almost every record for participation. The 5-mile course attracted 318 runners, while 935 challenged the 5K course. The handful of Little Fritter Fun Runs packed the green with 218 participants, while 117 others strolled, jogged, and sprinted the 2-mile contest.
There were another 40 or 50 preregistered athletes that didn’t make the starting gate, and that brings this year’s total well over 1,600. More importantly, this year marked the return of Southington runners to the winner’s circle.
Three of the four champions were local runners. Athletes from Southington and Plantsville claimed eight of the 15 division titles in the 5-mile race and captured 14 of 23 titles in the 5K race. Myers said that it was a good sign for local runners.
“It’s great to see Southington people winning. This is our home town race. It’s growing in tradition, so it’s always nice when our local people are winning. That’s not to take anything away from [the overall winner, Chris Rosenberg], but it’s good to see Southington people winning.”
For the first time in its three-year history local runners claimed both top spots in the 5K event, and both shattered previous records. Southington runners claimed the top three finishes in both the women’s and men’s competition with former Blue Knight Holland Florian leading the way. Florian finished the 5K course in 17:30. He beat his closes competitor by two minutes and was already cooling down by the time the second runner appeared at the edge of the green.
“Oh my gosh. It was funny. Holland was so far ahead of people that I asked myself if he was really running in our race,” said Myers. “He had such a nice run.”
Once again, the women’s race was won by a teenager. Marissa Matthews claimed her second straight title, and the 13-year-old broke her own record with a time of 20:58.
“She is a really accomplished athlete. Not only with running, but she’s really good at swimming and soccer as well,” said Myers. “I think she was focused on breaking her record. With Marissa and the other kids that are running, it really bodes well for the future of our high school teams—cross country and track.”
In fact, Matthews is coming off of a state title at the Hershey Track & Field meet where she challenged the high school record at the meet.
“I just like running and beating my time and setting another record,” she said. “When I started out up front I saw all the men in front of me, but I started out really fast…I work really hard to get where I am.”
The only non-resident to claim a title came in the 5-mile course where Old Saybrook’s Chris Rosenberg (26:27) edged Jim Rosenberger to capture the overall title. Rosenberger (27:40) captured the Dave Gworek Memorial Award as the town’s top finisher.
“We had to lengthen the course a little bit, too. That time he had was just incredible,” Myers said about the frontrunner. “With the changes to the course, we actually had to add another fifth of a mile, so you can take another minute off his time. He’s really running in the low 25s.”
Once again, the women’s title was captured by a local runner. Jacci Pugliese finished second last year, but she outdistanced all the women to capture the 5-mile title and the Gworek Award with a time of 35:13.
“She’s so tough, and this isn’t an easy course, either,” said Myers. “We have some hills in there, and it can get kind of tricky. She ran a great race.”
5 Mile Road Race
Chris Rosenberg edged Jim Rosenberger for the overall men’s title. Division winners for the men were Kieran Haug (9 and under), Zachary Bylykbashi (10-15), Miles Groom (16-19), Nick Dalidowitz (20-29), Darrell Cook (30-39), Mario Longo (40-49), George Kominos (50-59), Bill Lombardi (60-69), and Lee Bradley (70-79).
Jacci Pugliese out-distanced Jennifer Manware for the overall women’s title. Division winners for the women were Ali Overbur (10-15), Lauren Rousseau (20-29), Jessica Gunn (30-39), Angela Heidgerd (40-49), Karen Gillespie (50-59), and Linda Rocco (60-69).
5K Road Race
Holland Florian finished two minutes ahead of Brandon Cyr to capture the overall men’s title. Division winners for the men were Brad Melins (5 and under), Jeremiah Mann (6-7), Mackinnon Brennan (8-10), Matthew Garry (11-13), Matthew Duszak (14-16), Jake Harton (17-19), Philip Natoli (20-29), Steven Biscoglio (30-39), Michael Perkowski (40-49), Joe Mangione (50-59), Bill Rodgers (60-69), and CharlieNorth Williams (70-79).
Marisa Matthews beat Taylor Hubert to capture her second straight female title. Division winners for the females Hannah Stephenson (6-7), Morgan Hubert (8-10), Michaela Nafito (11-12), Emilee Kemnitz (14-16), Briana Gregoire (17-19), Carly Wholley (20-29), Jessica Magrey (30-39), Laura Summers (40-49), Patricia Thurston (50-59), Pat Neisser (60-69), and Elizabeth Lazor (70-79).
Ryan Perez captured the Chris Sanchez Award as the top finisher among the Blue Knight soccer players, and Erin Angelillo captured the award for the Lady Knights.
To comment on this story or to contact sports writer John Goralski, email him at jgoralski@ southingtonobserver.com.