High School Athlete Wins Local Road Race

BY DAVID BLOCK

PHILADELPHIA, PA--The fifth annual Fighting Irish 5K Run, scheduled for this past St. Patrick’s Day (Saturday March 17, 2007), at Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia was postponed to September 29 because of an unexpected ice storm.

Race Director Frank McGuire said that over 900 people registered. However, less than 400 people showed up on the rescheduled date, in fact only 374 people finished.

“The postponement had a huge impact on the number of finishers,” said McGuire. “To preserve the spirit of the race, I still had the bagpipers. It was easier to get them for September than St. Patrick’s Day because on St. Patrick’s Day, the bagpipers are probably the most wanted people on the planet.”

Experiencing St. Patrick’s Day in September was not the only unusual event that took place at the race. High school senior Ned Cunningham of Chestnut Hill Academy won with a 16:43 clocking.

“It’s not common for a high school athlete to win a local road race,” said McGuire. “Usually, the winners are in their 20s.”

Running the race was a last minute decision for the 18-year-old Cunningham. “My [high school] cross-country team didn’t have an invitational to run this weekend,” said Cunningham. “I needed to run a race, so I registered. I was expecting to do well, but I wasn’t expecting to win. I thought that an old guy would.”

Second place finisher Brian Prenderghest of Harleysville PA, clocked 17:02.

“I tried to stay with him (Cunningham) for the first two miles, but then he picked it up and took off,” said the 28-year-old Prenderghest.

Vying for the women’s crown was even less challenging as Jenna Darcy of Medford Lakes, NJ won in 19 minutes flat.

“I’m trying to run a lot of races to get back into shape,” said Darcy, who will run in the Olympic Marathon Trials this April.

The second woman finisher, Helen Cheung of Philadelphia who clocked 19:31 knew that she did not have a chance of catching Darcy after the race started. “All I saw was the back of her,” said Cheung.

After the race, McGuire decided to keep the Fighting Irish 5K in September instead of moving it back to March. “The weather is warmer in September,” said McGuire. “The angle we’ll now take will be ‘half way to St. Patrick’s Day.’”

The Race’s Rich History

Five years ago, McGuire formed this race as a vehicle to benefit St. Malachy Elementary School in North Philadelphia.

"It's a very unique school," said McGuire who elaborated that even though the parish is part of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, its pastor, the Rev. John McNamee, takes no money from the archdiocese so that he can determine the enrollment level. McNamee prefers to have a small enrollment of Students, below the level that the archdiocese would consider a minimum for a viable school.

According to McNamee, about 215 students attend the St. Malachy School in grades K-8.

"Practically all the kids are African-American," McNamee said, "and hardly any of them are Catholic. Forty-four percent of our students live below the poverty line."

McNamee said that the race helped the school by covering some of the students' tuition (currently $1,600 a year) and by giving the school a connection to the larger Catholic community, like the Notre Dame Alumni.

He noted that many of the race entrants now donate to St. Malachy several times a year. "The race has also gotten us corporate sponsorship," McNamee said. He noted that the students like St. Malachy because they feel safe.

"It's a small caring environment and the teachers know the students' names," he said. McNamee pointed out that because the students feel safe, they are able to focus on learning and getting good grades.

"We have a creed," he added, "that the students say every day: 'I believe in myself, I believe in my teachers, I will work hard because I can work hard.'"

When Frank McGuire learned about St. Malachy, he conceived the idea of putting on the Fighting Irish 5K run to raise money for the school.

"I was the chairperson for community service of the University of Notre Dame Alumni Club in Philadelphia," he said. "I was looking for a project
where I could make a difference. More than just painting walls and cleaning schools out, I wanted to do something on a big-scale basis."

He broached his race idea to the Notre Dame Alumni Club and the members liked it. When the first race was held in 2003, nearly 400 people entered.

For further information about the race, log onto www.fightingirish5K.com.