Run, baby, run | October 17, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Cover Story - October 17, 2008

Run, baby, run

Runners taking to the streets to raise money for schools

by Julie Nostrand

Danville's peaceful Sunday morning will be shattered this weekend as 5,000 runners take to the streets for the 25th annual Primo's Run for Education.

The race, which is celebrating its silver anniversary of raising money for the San Ramon Valley Unified School District, has become a fall tradition for community members. For a long time the owners of Primo's Pizza in downtown Danville were the driving force behind the race, but the event has grown beyond that.

"We are still the starting line for the half marathon," said John Rhodes, who along with his wife Sheri owns Primo's Pizza. "We get here early, set up a few water stations and some coffee. I like to keep the restaurant involved."

Two local businessmen, John's dad Jack Rhodes and Dennis Harvey, founded the race in 1983 in response to the cuts faced by schools after the passage of Proposition 13 a few years before. At the time Rhodes and Harvey were partners in Primo's Pizza, so they decided to host a run between their San Ramon and Danville locations.

Rhodes said his dad was an avid runner in the early '80s and worked as a probation officer prior to opening the restaurant.

"Both my mom and dad understood the importance of education and wanted to do something to raise money," he said. The run concept seemed a great fit.

Rhodes recalled that his dad ran the race for many years, and said he ran the race a couple of times himself. He has two kids in the school district and believes the race is still a good way for his business to give back to the community.

"Sometimes we take it for granted how good the schools are," said Rhodes, who is himself a product of the district. "It's just a good way to give back."

About the time Harvey and Jack Rhodes were holding meetings in their living rooms to plan the early races, a foundation to support the local schools was being formed. Local attorney Al Frumkin established the San Ramon Valley Education Foundation in 1982. When Rhodes and Harvey learned of this group through a Rotary connection, a partnership was formed.

Since its inception, the Education Foundation has poured more than $2 million into district schools for a variety of enrichment activities not funded by the state.

Vanessa Chan, the foundation's executive director, said the race is the foundation's major fundraiser every year.

"We hope to raise over $120,000 this year," said Chan.

Money from the run supplies grants at the classroom, school and district levels.

For the current school year, the foundation awarded more than $70,000 in grants to teachers for use in their classrooms. These grants covered everything from robotics to Spanish, from physical education to author visits. Any aspect of educational enrichment can be funded through teacher grants.

Grants vary in size depending on the nature of the teacher's classroom need, and any teacher can apply for grant amounts up to $1,500, said Chan.

School level grants in the amount of $1,000 each were given to more than 20 schools for reading and writing programs.

"Schools had to complete an application and say how they would use $1,000 for reading and writing programs at their schools," Chan explained. She said the only constraint on these grants was their area of focus.

The foundation also supports district grants in the area of science.

"The science initiative comes about because of a discussion with the district making science more of a priority," said Chan.

Support is in the form of a multi-year commitment to fund longer-term projects, but there is also a $10,000 teacher grant available in the area of science as part of this initiative. These grants fund a wide range of classroom science-related activities, including the purchase of specialized equipment.

Despite the sagging economy and grim economic news, Chan is optimistic about this year's success. Registrations are tracking with past years, and the community has always dug deep for schools. This year Shapell Homes agreed to the role of title sponsor, a boon for the race.

"This community is very committed to education and we haven't seen a decrease in registration. We're really hoping to beat last year's number," said Chan.

Runners helping with that goal will be following a course through the San Ramon Valley. Beginning at Primo's Pizza on the corner of Hartz Avenue and Diablo Road in Danville, the approximately 600 runners competing in the half marathon will line up for a 7:15 a.m. start.

The route goes a block east to Front Street, south to Laurel and under the freeway, then winds through residential streets, eventually leading to the Iron Horse Trail and connecting with the shorter 5K course on Norris Canyon Road.

Five thousand people are expected to run or walk the more accessible 3.1-mile course, which starts at Iron Horse Middle School and loops through Bishop Ranch before ending back at the school. Kids of all ages - including groups forming "centipedes" to represent the different schools - families and community members turn out for the race every year.

While the bulk of money raised comes from runner registration fees, schools can score big in a number of ways, including providing volunteers for the event.

"We have a planning committee that meets for about six months prior to the race, but we need over 500 volunteers on race day," said Chan.

To motivate volunteers, the race planners reward schools with points for every volunteer position they fill. Jobs such as area captain earn schools five points, while other positions, such as those at the start and end locations of the 5K course, earn a single point.

Race officials tally the points and each school group earns $50 for every 10 points awarded its volunteers. An additional $500 is awarded to the elementary, middle and high schools earning the most volunteer points.

Schools also earn money for participation. Schools with more than 40 percent of their enrollment participating in the race can earn $1,000. But smaller percentages earn money, too.

Education has already won in the lead up to the race. Spirit Week, hosted by Primo's Pizza from Sept. 28 to Oct. 1, raised more than $8,000, said Rhodes.

Throughout Spirit Week, people turned out by the hundreds to eat pizza and support the cause. Diners were entertained by a different school chorus each night and had the chance to win different prizes.

For community members who wanted to get behind the schools without loading up on carbohydrates or breaking a sweat, an online auction was open from Sept. 19 to Oct. 6. Items up for bidding included tickets to art museums, theaters, local attractions and stores with all proceeds going to the Education Foundation. The auction raised more than $8,500.

Carolyn Degnan, executive director of the San Ramon Chamber of Commerce, is a race veteran. She served as race director in 1999 and 2000 and still volunteers on the course every year because it gives her a chance to get out with the community.

"It's a great community effort, coming together to raise money for the school district - and it's lots of fun, too," said Degnan.

Matt Waterson couldn't agree more. An Alamo resident since 1999 and a participant in the half marathon for many years, he said that he does the run for two simple reasons.

"One, I do it for the exercise," said Waterson. "And two, I do it for the school district. It's great to get out there and see all the familiar faces at the event."

This year Waterson's half marathon plans were canceled due to an injury suffered during a basketball game, but he still plans to run the 5K with his son, Steven, a sixth-grader at Stone Valley Middle School.

"In the past, I had to get up early and run the half marathon," said Waterson. "This time I'm staying with him (Steven) and running the 5K. Hopefully, I can keep up."

Those interested in joining Waterson, Degnan and the thousands of other community members who will be out pounding the pavement for schools can register late on Oct. 17-18 at Forward Motion Sports in Danville or on race day at either the Primo's or Iron Horse Middle School starting points.

After the runners make their morning sprint through Danville, the downtown will settle back into its peaceful Sunday routine. But the energy of the race will remain - and the schools will benefit from it all.

Race day tips

5K participants

* Parking for 5K participants will be in the lots surrounding Bishop Ranch 1. Many surface streets will be closed due to the race, and the most efficient way to travel to the start line will be via I-680.

* Allow 15-30 minutes to walk to the start line after parking. Walk north along the Iron Horse Trail to get to Iron Horse Middle School. IMPORTANT: From the parking lot to the school is more than 1/2 mile.

Half marathon participants