About 750 runners assembled on the USF campus Saturday night for a twilight 5K race, sponsored by Little Caesar's Pizza to raise money for the USF cross-country and track programs.
Jeff Koos, a former South Florida star with a best of 14:18 for 5K on the track, showed the results of some steady 50-mile training weeks with a smooth 15:15 victory. It was a return to form for Koos, who has not trained seriously since graduating from USF two years ago.
"It felt good," said Koos. "I've been able to train consistently for the past month, with no distractions or injuries, and it felt good to race again."
A wild sprint for second ensued when Walt Conrad of Temple Terrace caught midpoint race leader John Caie of New Zealand about 150 meters from the finish and kicked past. Conrad, a serious amateur boxer who occasionally punctuates his workouts with shouts and exhortations, finished in 15:27. Caie came in third in 15:28. Stetson law student and USF alumni Tim Patrick was fourth in 15:29.
Vicky Renner, Palm Harbor elementary school teacher and recently named head boys and girls track coach at Clearwater Central Catholic, showed her proteges what it takes by winning the women's race in 18:19. She was followed by Tanya Ball of England in 18:27.
While many collegiate track and cross-country programs throughout the state, especially on the junior college level, have been eliminated or cut back, the USF program has grown past that of a good conference power to that of a national contender. Much of it can be directly attributed to the coaching, recruiting, and untiring race directing/fund-raising efforts of Bob Braman.
"Don't get me wrong," said Braman. "The USF athlectic department under Paul Griffin has really been good to us. We have a super budget from the athletic department, but the money we make from the races goes to help take our guys to the big meets in places like Eugene, Philadelphia or Boston. The exposure we get at the national level helps us in recruiting. The money also pays to keep people in school and make sure they graduate even when their athletic eligibility is finished."
"We used to raise between $40- to $70,000 a year from races like this one, Night Moves and the Bull Run. Because of the economy, we will probably only make $35,000 this year. I hate to say it, but because of expenses and costs, in order to actually break even I think the entry fees are going to have to go up to $15." The Great Gainesville 5K, held the same morning of Little Caesars, did charge $15 for race day entry.
Even with rising costs and noticeable drops in participation, for many the races still have an almost magical draw.
"I really find the experience exhilarating," said Tammie Edwards, a schoolteacher. "I always liked team sports like softball as opposed to individual sports, but the feeling I get from doing this is so real. It sort of makes my evening."