Silver Anniversary of Windber Race May End an Era

By George A. Hancock

WINDBER, PA--Windber’s impressive 25-year 5-mile run began on July 26, 1980. Jimmy Carter was President of the United States facing numerous problems. Our country was once again embroiled in a contentious Presidential campaign. The former Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, was on a solid roll as a Presidential candidate.

President Carter announced, early in 1980, economic sanctions against the Soviet Union in response to the Soviet military campaign in Afghanistan. Shortly thereafter, the United States Olympic Committee voted to boycott the Moscow Summer Olympic Games. The 1980 Olympic Games became a minor event without the world’s top athletes.

Mt. St. Helens erupted on May 18, 1980. Fifty-seven people were killed during this volcanic eruption in Washington. This once dormant volcano spewed ash, debris, and choking fumes across the countryside.

Norman Mailer won the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 for his work The Executioner’s Song. Ordinary People won the 1980 Academy Award. Christopher Cross won the 1980 Grammy Award for his song “Sailing.”

NBC, CBS, and ABC entertained us with the following television shows: Little House on the Prairie, Eight Is Enough, Happy Days, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Rockford Files, Dallas, Barnaby Jones, Quincy, Hawaii Five-O, Fantasy Island, The Incredible Hulk, The Ropers, Chips, B.J. and the Bear, Lou Grant, Soap, and Different Strokes.

Despite all this great entertainment, something was still missing in Windber. That something was spreading rapidly throughout Cambria, Somerset, Indiana, and Blair Counties in 1978 and 1979. Many small communities were sporting road races. Indiana had the 10K Fool’s Run. Blair County had the Cross Cove 5-Mile Run, the Garver YMCA 10K Run, and the Altoona 15K Run. Cambria County was a hot spot for road racing. Johnstown had a marathon and a 10K run. Portage had a 10K run. Dunlo had a 10K run. Beaverdale had a 5-mile run. Richland Township, then Westmont Borough, featured the Blue Cross/Blue Shield 10K Human Race. And, Somerset County had the unique Shanksville 10K Run around Lake Stonycreek.

Windber Borough was well represented in these road events. A group of determined Windber road racers, led by Jerry Simon, formed the Windber Striders. The Windber Striders was a solid road-racing club. This club featured many accomplished road racers. Several of the early Windber Striders included Jerry Simon, Sean Gahagen, Dave Jackson, Art Lamonica, Rick Shark, Bob Patas, Dave and Dan Swincinski, John Venzon, Dominic McCuch, and yes, even this writer was a Windber Strider. Thirteen years later Mr. Hancock was actually residing in the Windber School District. Denny Arnold, a long-time Windber 5-Mile race director, also had recently moved from Johnstown’s West End to Windber Borough.

Initially, the Windber Striders wanted to make the Windber run a 10K event. The 5-Mile Run would be held the last Saturday in July. The run would start and end at the Windber Recreation Park. The course would proceed along State Route 160 to a turnaround point near the present day Homestead Inn Restaurant located in Adams Township. This scenic route would feature a slight incline out and a moderate hill on the return leg. However, the bulk of the road course was in Richland Township. Despite the remote, rural, wooded nature of this route, the Township Supervisors would not give the Striders permission to hold the road race here. So, an alternate route was selected.

The Windber Striders Race Committee decided on a 5-mile run. The race would still begin and end at Windber Recreation Park. However, the opening first mile was down 9th Street to a right turn onto Somerset Avenue. The first mile proved an interesting adventure. Rob Krents, a frequent Windber runner, recently stated that in 1981 he completed the first mile in 4:27. Despite Krents’ torrid first mile pace, he placed second behind Kerry Green in 27:13. However, heroic efforts during the first mile would later haunt the Windber competitors.

After the right onto Somerset Avenue, the race course proceeded to 4th Street and a left turn down the short 4th Street hill. The race course then followed Graham Avenue to 23rd Street and the Windber High School. Here, the runners made a quick left onto 23rd Street. After one short block, the runners turned left onto Somerset Avenue. Somerset Avenue runs parallel with Graham Avenue. The 5-mile racers could glimpse other runners along this portion. However, around 14th Street, Somerset Avenue begins a gradual grade.

The Runners eventually reached 9th Street and faced flat terrain. The race proceeded one block past 4th Street and a right turn up a short hill and then a quick right to a rear side street. The runners then turned left onto 4th Street and began a hellish climb.

Fourth Street is a very steep hill leading to several Windber Church cemeteries. And, early on, these roads were not paved. Fourth Street eventually connected to Cemetery Road in Richland Township. This was a rough segment for many runners. The dirt road was gruesome when muddy. Many runners wanted to stay in the cemetery region. They believed they earned a spot. However, there was one final segment left.

The runners headed out Cemetery Road towards State Route 160. The runners crossed SR 160 and entered the park and made a quick sharp right onto a Park road. The Runners followed this road to the second sharp left. The Runners went around the turn past the playground to the big pavilion and the finish line. What a run!

Despite these grueling, hilly conditions, one runner set a mark in 1984 that has yet to be equaled. Marty Nagy, a Sidman native, won the 1984 race in 25:24. Nagy had a remarkable run on a hot, hilly course.

Craig Baer, 45, from Fort Hill won the 2004 2-Mile Whalley RaceWalk in 16:25. Baer, an accomplished racewalker, broke Steve Bence’s 1999 course record of 16:30. Baer has a very unique training routine--he doesn’t! Baer’s entire training program revolves around his racewalking. Baer estimates that he competes in two to three races a week and should have over 60 races in this year. Baer completed 54 events in 2003. Baer, a Keystone Lawn Company employee, competes in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. Baer’s 2004 win was his third straight victory in Windber.

Forty walkers completed the July 3, 2004 event. Twenty-nine female walkers and 11 male walkers walked Windber’s scenic streets.

One-hundred-and-six runners finished the Whalley 5-Mile Run. Eighty-four male runners and 22 female runners toured Windber’s rolling race course. Nearly 80 youngsters competed in the various Lollipop Age Group runs.

The Whalley race day was a series of weather contrasts. A cool, refreshing, misty fog enveloped the race course at 7:00 a.m. The RaceWalk began under these ideal race conditions. However, by the 9:00 a.m. 5-Mile start, the warm sun was drenching the macadam roads. The racing conditions quickly became sunny, warm, and humid. The temperature climbed 10 degrees in mere moments. It was hot. Shade was in short supply. Thankfully, the water stops were well manned. Several spectators sprayed water on the warm runners.

Tom Lipsie, 37, won the 2004 Whalley 5-Mile Run in 28:51. Lipsie, an Indiana resident and an Indiana Road Runners club member, won the 2003 Greater Johnstown Marathon in 2:49:53.

Lipsie told this writer that he felt good during the race. Lipsie also stated that he liked the course and the rolling hills worked to his advantage. Lipsie estimated that he took over the lead about the two-mile mark. Lipsie felt that he could have run a faster time on the course. However, he was not pressured during the last miles.

Rudy Chelednik, 16, placed second in 30:45. Steve Tucker captured third place in 31:06. Tucker is a 15-year-old 10th grade Richland High School runner.

The first female 5-Mile runner was Beaverdale’s Leanna Nastase. The 19-year-old Bucknell University runner finished 7th overall in 32:39.

Former Richland High School standout runner Amy Tucker placed second in 33:57. The 21-year-old Tucker placed 11th overall in the 5-Mile run.

Sarah Strayer finished third in 34:35. Strayer, 17, is the daughter of local veteran runner Jon Strayer.

The Whalley Race competitors enjoyed a delicious postrace brunch. Ice-cold soda, beer, iced tea, and water was available for the weary road warriors. Several tables were loaded with various fruits including apples, oranges, watermelon, and bananas. Pizza, hot dogs, chips, and kielbasa sandwiches lined other tables. The Whalley Community Building Staff worked diligently to feed the Whalley competitors. Gail Ankeny’s Community Building staff did an outstanding job again this year. The entire Race Committee worked together to offer a tremendous small-town road event. Traffic control was the best in years. Race-day volunteers manned the water stations, the mile markers, and the turns on the Whalley road course. Age-group awards were presented to the swift competitors in numerous categories.

Whalley Memorial 25th Run Footnotes

The very first Windber 5-Mile Run was held on Saturday, July 26, 1980. The race was called the Windber Days 5-Mile Run. This race was held in conjunction with the Windber Week activities schedule.

Johnstown resident D.C. Nokes won the first Windber race in 27:04. Kathy Capon from Ebensburg was the first female runner in 37:05. One-hundred-and-two runners completed the very first Windber race.

One-hundred-and-ninety-eight runners finished the 1981 Windber Days 5-Mile Run. Kerry Green won the race in 27:01. The Race Committee added a new race class in 1981. Sean Gahagan won the first 180-plus weight class event in 29:00.

Terry Croyle lowered the 5-Mile course record in 1982 to 26:15.

The 1983 race featured a unique pre-race-day run. A one-mile race was held on Graham Avenue right before the fireman’s parade. The runners were able to fly past thousands of people lining Graham Avenue for the big parade.

The 1983 race may have created the biggest ever Windber 5-Mile Run controversy. Dave Molnar, an Adams township resident with a Windber mailing address, ran an outstanding race and was awarded the Windber Resident award. However, the Race Committee actually meant the award for the fastest Windber Borough resident. The race application never specified this point. The application was corrected and the award was thereafter given to the fastest male and female Windber School District residents. Brian Ferrari won the 1983 race in 25:48.

Two-hundred-and-twenty-three runners completed the July 21, 1984 run. Sidman’s Martin Nagy torched the hilly 5-mile course in 25:24. Nagy’s remarkable time remains the all-time Windber 5-Mile course record.

Jim Argenbright, a Johnstown runner, won the 1985 run in 28:02. Argenbright won the 1988 race in 27:43. Brian Ferrari won the 1989 race in 26:39, but Argenbright was second in 27:20. Argenbright won the 1990 5-mile run in 26:52.

In 1989, Anne Nash, a then Hollidaysburg runner, set the women’s 5-Mile Run course record of 31:09. In 1990, on a newly reconfigured course, Nash set the new course record with her 31:36 winning time. Nash also won the 1997 5-mile race in 32:10.

Lynn Bridges, a fleet Cumberland, MD runner, won the 5-mile race in 1996, 1998, 1999, and placed second in 1997.

Tracey Molnar, a local Forest Hills High School and St. Francis University graduate, won the 5-mile race in 2000. Molnar placed third in 1997 and second in both 1998 and 1999.

Johnstown resident Stephen Gonzalez won the race in 2002 with his 26:15 effort. Gonzalez tied the course record set by Johnstown runner Steve Molnar in 1992. Gonzalez won the race again in 2003 with his 27:19 winning time. In 2001, Gonzalez was second in 27:10.

In 1995, the Whalley Race Committee started a 2-Mile Walk event. Penn Hills resident Steve Bence won this event in 1995, 1996, 1997, and again in 1999. Bence set the 2-Mile Walk record in 1999 with his 16:30 time. Craig Baer broke Bence’s course record in 2004 with his 16:25 winning time. Baer also won the Walk event in 2002 and in 2003. Baer finished second in 2001.

Leanna Nastase--a Beaverdale resident, a Forest Hills High School graduate, and a current Bucknell University runner--won the 5-mile race in 2002 with 32:45, in 2003 with 31:47, and in 2004 with 32:39. Nastase finished second in 2000 and also in 2001.

The Windber 5-Mile road course was redone for the 11th run on July 28, 1990. The new 5-mile course began and ended at the Windber Community Building located on Graham Avenue.

No runner has completed all 25 Windber 5-Mile Runs. However, one runner--that ageless poetic bard George A. Hancock--finished 23 of the 25 Windber races. He missed the 1985 run with a nasty hip injury and in 1992 due to the birth of his son, Cory.

Final Windber 5-Mile Race results are missing from 1983, 1986, 1987, and 1995. If you have the results from these years, please contact George A. Hancock at Runnergah@aol.com.

The Windber 5-Mile Race reached the 25-year plateau thanks to the tireless work over the years by Race Directors Dave Jackson, Jerry Simon, Bob Patas, and Denny Arnold, dedicated race-day volunteers, and Gail Ankeny’s Windber Community Building Staff. The J. Irving Whalley Charitable Trust Foundation also offered tremendous support the past several decades.

Is the Windber 5-Mile Run over? The answer might be yes. The Windber 5-Mile Run may have ended with the July 3, 2004 race. A final decision has not been made. This race is well organized. Traffic control is outstanding. The road course is runner friendly. The race-day weather is always something else. The postrace brunch is the best in the Cambria-Somerset County region. There is great community support for the Windber races. Small-town races are the heart of our road-racing world.

So, many veteran local runners would like past Windber competitors, current Windber competitors, and, perhaps, future Windber 5-Mile Run competitors and Windber Walk participants to send a letter or a note to the Windber Community Building staff and urge them to continue this race. Please send your letter to:

Windber Community Building
“Keep the 5-Mile Race Going”
1605 Graham Avenue
Windber, PA 15963

Thank you!

MALE

5 Miles

Overall

1. Tom Lipsie 28:51
2. Rudy Chelednik 30:45
3. Stephen Tucker 31:06

Windber Resident

1. George A. Hancock (28th) 37:08

Windber Alumnus

1. Ray Palumbo (12th) 33:57

Weight Class (200+ lbs.)

1. Rob Krents (59th) 41:11

15 and Under

1. Craig Chelednik 40:44
2. Brian Cade 41:24

16-19

1. Chad Duryea 31:36
2. Keith Guydo 33:02

20-24

1. Steve Guydo 32:17
2. David Sollenberger 38:51
3. Jeff Kiss 39:20

30-34

1. Tom Berzosky 31:12
2. Tom Petrore 34:18
3. Eric Walker 34:25

35-39

1. Jeff Dick 33:31
2. Michael Hughes 35:55
3. Steve Custer 37:54

40-44

1. Ray Palumbo 33:57
2. Jim Washko 39:26
3. Rob Krents 41:11

45-49

1. John Molnar 32:42
2. Daniel Koshute 34:13
3. Ted Helsel 37:36

50-54

1. Bob Fensterer 34:45
2. George Demchak 35:17
3. Bob Layton 36:15

55-59

1. Jerry Petro 35:30
2. Larry Varchetti 37:41
3. Bob Schrok 39:37

60-64

1. Tom Fetterman 34:12
2. Keith Neff 36:21
3. John Stump 38:05

65 and Over

1. Joe Oresko 52:01
2. Tim Mapes 39:43

2-Mile Walk

Overall

1. Craig Baer (new record) 16:25

19 and Under

1. Cory Hancock 26:23
2. Everett Clover 28:16

20-29

1. Kevin Bean 25:53
2. Mike Liggette 27:51

40-49

1. Terry Frombach 22:41
2. Jeffrey Pawlak 24:53

50 and Over

1. A.J. Harbaugh 18:28
2. Al Reddecliff 24:18

FEMALE

5 Miles

Overall

1. Leanna Nastase 32:39
2. Amy Tucker 33:57
3. Sarah Strayer 34:35

Windber Resident

1. Cindy Berkebile (85th) 46:16

Windber Alumnus

1. Ellen Onderko (40th) 39:15

16-19

1. Katie Skoner 42:59
2. Missy Crum 45:01

25-29

1. Kathryn Mattis 45:14

30-34

1. Michelle Wissinger 38:53
2. Nickie Damico 42:25
3. Becky Piscitella 46:17

35-39

1. Paula Bridges 37:51
2. Ellen Onderko 39:15
3. Celeste Sprankle 45:32

40-44

1. Brenda Chapple-Fulton 40:46

45-49

1. Pat Tims 45:56
2. Cindy Berkebile 46:16

50-54

1. Nancy Demangone 47:38
2. Lee Kring 53:40

2-Mile Walk

Overall

1. Gwen Baer 22:44

19 and Under

1. Molly Mulcahy 24:52
2. Rachel Gallagher 26:26

20-29

1. Diane Liggett 27:50
3. Jessica Dobson 30:31

30-39

1. Lisa Shirt 27:21
2. Shelly Thomas 29:05

40-49

1. Darlene Pawlak 23:13
2. Jennifer Parent 26:18

50 and Over

1. Betsy Fetterman 26:10
2. Dorothy Troy 27:19