SHIRLEY -- With over 400 runners registered to sprint the scenic trails of the Holdenwood Wildlife Refuge, last Sunday's sixth annual Holdenwood Trail Run raised about $10,000 for the Ayer-Shirley Educational Foundation.
Organized this year by Jason Rakip, Jason Cashton, Heidi and Matt Korhonen, Cliff Bailey, and a team of other local volunteers, this year's 2K and 5K races were also made possible by their 31 sponsors.
The premier sponsors were All-Star Sporting Goods and The New Bull Run Restaurant, which offered every runner with a number a free beer, soft drink, or ice cream after the races.
Rakip said after the race that it was a great day -- so great, in fact, that the organizing committee has decided to add a 10K race next year.
"We picked a date for next year, Sunday, Sept. 29, and we are going to add a 10K option. The 2K will be at 10 a.m., and the 5 and 10K will start simultaneously at 11 a.m. We should have the online sign-up for next year available soon."
Two of the runners Rakip spoke with on Sunday were Mary and Rick Denning of Loveland, Colo. Rakip said Denning told him they were "in town" at their condo at Hampton Beach, and wanted to find a New England trail run to enter over the weekend. They found the Holdenwood race online.
"For a guy who runs trail runs in Colorado to tell me this was the best race he ever ran is pretty impressive," marveled Rakip.
Holdenwood is an area in the heart of Shirley protected from development and landscaped with numerous gardens, stonewalls, and stone bridges built by the late Dave Holden and his family, many of whom were present to wish the runners well.
The fastest male overall for the 5K trail run was, for the second year in a row, John Kinner, age 33, of Ayer, with a time of 18:17. The top female was Sandra Vittori, age 48, of Wilmington, with a time of 21:20.
The top male runner overall for the 2K was Dana Maloney, age 10, of Shirley, with a time of 9:19. The top female was Riley Korhonen, age 12, also from Shirley, with a time of 9:48.
For the 5K, the top male in the 1-25 age group was Jay Jewitt, with a time of 18:45; the top female was Hannah Levensailor, of Ayer, with a time of 25:00. In age group 26-39, the top male and female were James Ryan, of Shirley, 19:37, and Karen Knox, of Shirley, 22:43.
In age group 40-49, the top male and female were Matthew Day of Harvard, 19:16, and Kris Leleason, of Leominster, 23:32. For ages 50-59, the fastest runners were Lester Forgit of Worcester, 22:25, and Susan Kenney of Somerset, 27:01.
The leaders for ages 60-69 were David Pember of Medfield, 24:46, and Ann Montgomery of Groton, 42:39. The leader for ages 70 and above was Thomas Knatt of Groton, 42:15.
Other top 2K runners were, for age group 1-8, Nathan Burpeau of West Point, N.Y., 10:05, and Sydney VanGilder, of Pepperell, 12:23. For ages 9-12, the top runners were Sam Kahn of Shirley, 9:26, and Alison Houde of Ayer, 9:55.
The overall male and female winners of the 5K received vouchers for free sneakers from Salomon Shoes. The overall boy and girl finishers in the 2K received $50 gift certificates from Evans on the Common. The other top age-group prizes were gift certificates to Dick's Sporting Goods.
The organizers also offered nine free raffle prizes of four tickets each to a New England Revolution soccer game, a welcome surprise for a number of happy runners.
Looking to the future
After the two races, Ayer-Shirley Regional High School student Kyle Levensailor explained to the crowd why he supports the impending vote in Ayer and Shirley on the renovation of the high school building, located in Ayer.
On Nov. 17, voters in Ayer and Shirley will go to the polls to vote on the proposed expansion and renovation plans for the building, as well as whether or not to approve a debt-exclusion mechanism to help fund the $19 million local portion of the estimated $56 million project.
"Our school has been standing for over 50 years," said Levensailor. "The time to renovate is now."
The well-spoken Levensailor stressed the need for the project in terms of student safety and economic efficiency. "If we do not renovate," he said, "we will need to knock down the building and build a new school, or we, the students, will have to transfer schools.
"I love this school. I've grown up in Ayer my whole life. I don't want my siblings going to any high school but Ayer-Shirley."
Levensailor stressed the need for the school to hold on to its accreditation and for the community to maintain a sense of pride "in what many have worked hard to build up.
"Please vote 'yes' on Nov. 17," he said. "Let's renovate our school!"
Time to play
The day concluded with the Shirley Play Board's sixth annual Day of Play on the historic center town common, complete with a cardboard community built by young children.
Students from Ayer Shirley Regional and Nashoba Valley Technical High Schools ably assisted the younger participants. The focal point of the cardboard chaos was a large, central cardboard building painted with a black outlined design for the children to paint by number. The creation was constructed by Shirley residents Chris and Jess Bailey, who also built several "mystery" boxes in which kids and adults inserted their hands in order to guess the contents.
"Isn't this great!?" proclaimed Shirley Play Board Chairwoman Sue Heinz, as she and fellow play board member Beth Quinty inspected the recyclable creations, handing out gold dollars and two-dollar bills to the designers.
The afternoon was rounded out with a mini-Zumba workshop with Carolyn Sargent, and a hip-hop lesson with Maria's School of Dance. Other features were a SpongeBob sponge toss, cupcake decorating, and the sale of chili by ShirleyArts!, pizza by the Lura A. White Elementary Technology Advisory Group, baked goods by the Shirley Play Board, and fried dough by Shirley Cub Scout Pack 31.
Finally, it was off to The Bull Run just around the corner for a celebratory ice cream or beverage, and a toast to next year.