Kittatinny cross-country draws student runners from region Teacher's passion keeps the event going

| 25 Oct 2017 | 01:47

By Laurie Gordon
— What makes someone keep an annual event going when it requires a lot of time and energy? The answer in the case of Danielle Tooker is passion for a sport and involving young people in it.
The sport is running and the event is the Kittatinny Cross Country Invitational. Though it's held on the Kittatinny High School course, it's not for high schoolers: it's for junior high and elementary aged kids. The event was held on Thursday, and involved close to 200 kids from schools all over the area.
Tooker is a Clothing Arts and Business and Career Exploration teacher at Kittatinny and teaches both junior high and high school students. She's also the junior high school cross country coach.
“The Kittatinny Invitational and junior high cross country program were started many years ago, before I took it over 14 years ago,” she said. “Bud Chase-- a retired teacher and coach of Kittatinny-- started the program.”
Tooker said that the Invitational started with just a few schools, but as the programs grew and new ones were introduced, the elementary and middle school groups have really grown.
“Thursday's meet had over 10 schools represented and over 190 runners,” she said.
Originally the course start was near the practice football field, but due to the growth and the attendance of spectators Tooker said they found a need to move it to the Hampton "Pit".
“This allows parents to see their runners for a good part of the race and gives the teams more room,” she said.
Schools participating this year were- Kittatinny, Sussex Wantage, Sussex Charter, Hardyston, North Warren, Sparta, Stillwater, Fredon, Sandyston-Walpack, and Marion McKeown School in Newton.
The Invitational involves a lot, Tooker said. “It requires scheduling the event, mailing flyers, preparing rosters and name tags, ordering medals and ribbons, making posters for results, setting up and cleaning up the course, and scheduling officials. Speaking of officials, I have had a group that has been working with me for over a decade. As a team we are like a well oiled machine. Heidi Meakin, Dana Bitondo, Jane Junior, Lindsay Sadowski, and Maria Vezos participate each year.”
Tooker is too young to even consider retiring, but when she does, she hopes that “whoever took over the program would continue with it with it with the same passion that I have for it.”
Tooker has been coaching for over 14 years but has been a runner all of her life. She graduated from High Point Regional High School and was part of a relay there in track hat set a record which stood for over 25 years. She has also been a track and field official for the past 12 years. Tooker lives in Sandyston Township with her husband and has three daughters, all of whom ran for Kittatinny. She graduated from Montclair State University with a Bachelors of Arts in Human Ecology-Family and Consumer Sciences Education. She also completed my Masters of Arts at New Jersey City University in Educational Technology. Tooker loves creating fashion and enjoys being involved with the annual Creative Arts/Fashion Show and High School Musical as the costume and props director.
Brenna Philson attends the McKeown Elementary School and is heavily involved in travel soccer. “I was really looking forward to this race because it's one of my only chances to race in the fall and I love running as well as soccer. I also like that you get to see friends you've met through running here.”
One of those friends is Emily Fuchs, who attends the Stillwater Elementary School.
“I like this event because of all the kids that come out to run in it,” Fuchs said. “Running is very good for you and I love seeing so many kids running.”
Jamie Whitby is ready to run for Tooker. The sixth grader at Stillwater School has a fast-developing passion for the sport and recently did his first 5K race.
“I think this event is great because I got to run on part of the cross country course I'll be running next year as a seventh grader for Mrs. Tooker,” he said. “I also think this is great because it gives younger kids who have never tried running a chance to try it.”
Races were divided by grade in order of seventh grade girls, seventh grade boys, eighth grade girls, sixth grade and under girls and then sixth grade and under boys. The older kids ran 1.5 miles while the younger kids did a very spectator friendly mile course, and some pretty young runners were out to give it a try.
Of the sport, Tooker said, “Cross country is a race against oneself. Every race there is an opportunity to win in three ways: first, you can get a personal record, second, you can help the team win, and third, you can win first.” She added, “I like my runners to focus on the first one. The rest will come as long as they 'Never let it rest until their good is better and their better is best.' This approach in running and in life will serve them well.”