Cougar Stampede unites community and sports

Runners shine despite overcast sky

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  • Mike Passafaro, of Fredon, got a little extra weight as he ran toward the finish. His son, Chase, greeted him to be carried at the end of the final loop. Photos by laurie Gordon

  • Jeff Riva (left) and Chris Shotwell (right) are coaches for the Kittatinny Youth Lacrosse Club. They and about a dozen lacrosse players represented the club in the race.

  • The start of Sunday's 21st Annual Cougar Stampede 5K.

  • Kittatinny Youth Lacrosse Club and Kittatinny Middle School Track members who participated in The Cougar Stampede to represent their sports.

  • Collin Webb singing and Aiden Bellow holding the flag. Both are 6th graders at The Stillwater School and participants in The Bears Youth Running Program.

By Laurie Gordon

— Sunday's Cougar Stampede was a coming together of community and of different sports. When their tournament was canceled due to last week's soaking rains, players from the Kittatinny Youth Lacrosse Club traded in their cleats for sneaks and toed the line along with several of their coaches. Given the weekend's weather, the race miraculously snuck in between the raindrops and the runners even saw some glimpses of sunshine.

Mark Minervini, of Hopatcong, was the male winner of the 5K. A graduate of Hopatcong High School, Minervini works at BJ's Wholesale in the Deli Department, studies at County College of Morris and runs with Garden State Track Club.

“It was a good race today,” he said. “It was humid out but the rain stayed away.”

Ali Schutte, of Stillwater, was the female 5K champion. Schutte had some extra fuel added to her desire to turn in a good race on Sunday. On Saturday, she was set to compete in the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Counties Track and Field Championships (HWS) in the mile race. Despite torrential downpours, Schutte and her teammates from Kittatinny had journeyed to North Hunterdon for the event. Just before the mile she was to run, the race was abruptly canceled due to a snafu with the timing system: and it will not be rescheduled.

Though disappointed, Schutte, who is a junior, saw the silver lining after the Stampede.

“Since HWS was canceled, I had fresh legs,” she said. “Also, being that my cross country coach, who coaches me in the fall, was one of the organizers of the Stampede, it was great to win for him.” Ten-year-old Brenna Philson attends the McKeown School, in Hampton, and just made it to Lodestar Park for the start of the mile. She plays travel soccer on Sundays but did not want to miss the mile as she runs each Friday as part of The Bears Youth Running Program.

“I'm here!” she announced to her running friends as she ran over to the starting line.

For the second year in a row, Philson's finish came down to a full out sprint against fellow Bears runner, Patrick Payne. Though Payne just beat Philson, Philson clenched the overall female win for the mile. The male winner was 12-year-old Bradley Dehlen, of Green Township.

Peter Kuchinski of Newton is sixty-four years young. He placed third in the 60 to 69 age group and has the unique distinction of having run every single one of the 21 Stampedes.

“It's a great race and it's always a good atmosphere and a lot of fun,” he said.

The race benefited the Kittatinny Cougar Athletic Association (KCAA) and The Bears Youth Running Club.

KCAA President Steve Russell and members of the non-profit helped organize this year's race, and the association is vital to perpetuating sports at Kittatinny. The co-organizer was The Bears Youth Running Club which, for 21 years, has been instilling the many positives benefits of the sport of running in our area youth.

When it comes to the coaches who volunteer their time each Friday afternoon to help with The Bears, it's about doing small things in a great way to inspire the kids. Devin Johnstone, who attends North Warren High School, did just that at The Cougar Stampede. Johnstone had run the 5K and won his age group. As he was doing his warm down, he saw that one of the Bears runners needed a little encouragement to finish the Mile race. Johnstone ran out on the course and got Ryan Condit running again. Condit finished strong with a big smile on his face and Coach Devin by his side.

Top finishers:

Mark Minivini, 20:48

Nick Verderand, 21:35

Dillon Johnstone, 22:04

Ali Schutte, 22:35

Jillian Ziprich, 22:57

Molly Riva, 24:19

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