At the end of events, the runners enjoyed bunny cake.
Photos by Laurie Gordon
By Laurie Gordon NEWTON — Easter started two days early at Lodestar Park on Friday as kids in The Bears Youth Running Program enjoyed an egg hunt, relays and games all in the context of running. The program's impetus is to get kids outside and active. This initiative has become increasingly important with the advent of so many technological devices and social media that make it easy to stay sedentary and indoors. Bears has been in existence in various forms for over 20 years. “The program is awesome and pushes me to my limits,” said Jamie Whitby, a fifth grader at The Stillwater School. “The coaches keep you going no matter what with a lot of encouragement and events like the Easter activities are a lot of fun. I've been doing it for a few years but this spring, I'm really dedicated. My favorite part today was the jellybeans as a reward.” Thomas Balbo, a sixth grader at the same school, added, “The running program is exhilarating and they help you reach your goals.” Like Whitby, Balbo has been part of the program for a number of years. Emily Ward is a freshman at Kittatinny Regional High School where she runs cross country in the fall and track in the spring. She volunteers her time to help coach The Bears and said, “It's a great program that gets young kids out running and ready for high school running. I enjoy helping out.” On Friday, Ward helped with the relay and was given the job of “Easter Bunny” to help hide the eggs for the “Running Egg Hunt.” Devon Johnstone was Ward's assistant bunny and, like Ward, he and his brother Dillon are also assistant, role-model coaches. “It's great to be a role leader for these kids and get them interested in the sport that I am passionate about,” Devon said. Good Friday is a religious holiday and the kids were off from school. “On a day when it would be easy to not do much, The Bears held practice and got the kids out for a while to be active and do something good for their bodies and minds,” Devon said. "The program isn't just for kids who are seasoned runners. It's for kids of all levels and abilities and shows them that 'Yes, you too can be part of the running community.' The running community is for all abilities, ages and walks of life and that's what makes it so great.” On Friday, the kids did a group run then bounced into hill repeats before the “Jelly Bean Relay” and “Running Easter Egg Hunt.” The Bears Youth Running Program is sponsoring a race on Saturday, May 20 which will include a 5K at 10 am followed by a mile. Both are open to runners and walkers, and this year's event is being run in memory of Stillwater Firewoman/EMT, Terrie DeFabritis, who passed away after a long battle with lung disease in January. Proceeds will benefit the running program and The NJ Sharing Network, a charity that was near and dear to DeFabritis. To participate in the race, register on-line at <URL destination="http://raceroster.com/events/2017/11980/stampede-5k-in-memory-of-terrie ">raceroster.com/events/2017/11980/stampede-5k-in-memory-of-terrie </URL>For a paper application to be mailed to you or for information about becoming a sponsor, call 973-362-8006.