Great Pumpkin Classic: Fall race celebrates 25th anniversary

Sunday marks the 25th running of the Great Pumpkin Classic.

Sunday marks the 25th running of the Great Pumpkin Classic.

Traditions — the customary rituals that, over time, become woven into the fabric of a certain part of society — aren’t easy to maintain.

But, with some hard work, dedication and innovation, these practices spark the interests of a new generation, who rally behind the cause and champion it towards a brighter future.

And that’s why an institution like the Great Pumpkin Classic, formerly the Great Pumpkin Run, is able to celebrate its 25th anniversary at Trumbull High School Sunday, Oct. 18.

“It’s an event that’s evolved over the years,” said Debi Miller, who’s been involved with the race since it began in 1991 and now co-chairs the Great Pumpkin Classic with Ricki Davis of Trumbull Community Women.

“We’ve had to adapt to the changing needs of our runners and our community to get to 25 years,” she explained. “We’ve changed the route of the 5K; we’ve changed the distance around; and we’ve added the two-mile health walk and the kids fun run.

“Through it all, the volunteers are the ones who have kept it going,” she added. “It takes a lot of hard work to keep a project like this going.”

The race was originally founded by Marty Schiavone, who taught biology at Trumbull High School for 35 years and served as the school’s cross country coach.

The pumpkin run, which attracts more than 1,000 runners, walkers, and spectators from all over the region and is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. this year, was the first race Sciavone organized.

Since then, the former THS teacher founded his own company and serves as director of M.S. Running Productions, which has organized or consulted on hundreds of charity runs and health walks.

Originally, the annual fall event was a 5K race. Then it changed to a four-mile run, from 1993 to 2011, with cash prizes, a pasta dinner the night before and a health fair the morning of the event. In the last half decade, it’s returned to its traditional 5K format while adding attractions like the Kids’ Fun Run, which is set to start at 8:30 at the THS track, and the two-mile health walk, which is set to begin at 9:35 a.m.

“It’s turned into more of a community event where the whole family can participate and enjoy the morning,” said Miller, tracing the Great Pumpkin Classic’s origins.

“Back when it started, the race was the foundation of this event,” she added. “It was designed to be one of the best of its kind in Connecticut, and it was — it’s been ranked in the top 50 in New England for the past 10 years.”

Adding to the tradition

In addition to the fun run and the health walk, Trumbull Community Women have established other new traditions, including a post-race after party with catered dishes in the school’s cafeteria and food trucks in the back of the property.

There will be an awards ceremony, set for 10:30, that will coincide with the refreshments being served in the cafeteria.

TCW, which is celebrating its own 50th anniversary this year, is also sponsoring a brand-new house-decorating contest for participants going along the walking route near the school.

“It’s Halloween so we figured to have a decoration contest for houses located from Strobel Road to Daniels Farm Road to Marigold Lane back up towards Putting Green Road. For a while, we’ve tried to keep the two events separate but we want to have as much participation from the community as possible.”

While participants have picked up a sponsored-decorated shirt before or after the race in the past, this year they will get a new 25th anniversary shirt, as well as a mug from the BIC Corporation — the event’s main sponsor.

Funding scholarships

And sponsorships are crucial to the vitality of the event’s longevity.

TCW is in partnership with the Trumbull High School Scholarship Foundation, the Trumbull PTSA and the Trumbull Chamber of Commerce (TCC). All proceeds from the health walk support TCW’s Scholarship Program, while the proceeds from the 5K support the THS Scholarship Foundation and TCC Grant Fund. The Fun Run benefits the PTSA.

“It’s expensive to put on event like this but whatever’s left over goes back into the scholarship fund,” Miller said. “For as little as $100, a business can support this great community event with the name on the back of 750 shirts that will be given to each participant.”

For more information about the scholarship program and sponsorship in support of the Great Pumpkin Classic, call 203-216-3186 or email [email protected].

For those interested in participating in the run, Miller added that pre-registration is being held from noon to 4 at the high school Saturday, Oct. 17, and that racers may additionally sign up the morning of the event at 7:45. The cost to run is $25 for ages 19 and older; $30 for ages 19 and older on race day; and $15 for ages 18 and under.

“This is the biggest event of the year for our club,” Miller said. “September and October are traditionally the busiest months for our club, with all 35 of our members involved in organizing this event, which ties in with our campaign ‘We Love Trumbull, Re-discover Our Town.’”

How did we get here?

The pumpkin classic was such a success in its early days that it brought in elite runners from around New England, in addition to countries as diverse as Kenya, Ireland, Russia, Poland, and Brazil.

Bill Rogers, the only man to win the Boston and New York City marathons four times each, ran in the four-mile race twice. His course record record for the age group 40-plus still stands.

Additionally, five United States Olympic runners and qualifiers have run in the Great Pumpkin Classic over the years, including Danbury resident and Olympics marathon trials qualifier Joe Lemay, who has won the GPC four times.

“People are no longer coming from other countries, but we still see a lot of people from New York, New Jersey and all over Connecticut,” explained Miller, who expects that 800 people will participate in the run and walk this year, as well as 50 or so kids.

“Now it’s more of an organized fun event that’s geared towards making the runners feel comfortable, and offering them a scenic, fast course,” she added. “Runners like the effort and thought given to presenting a great path for their journey to the finish line — runners appreciate the little things that make dedicating a weekend morning to running all that more special.

Key ingredient

Miller points out that the fall foliage presents the perfect backdrop for runners.

“It’s the absolute perfect time of year to have this event — for families to come out together to walk, run or cheer,” she said.

However, there is a more crucial element to the event’s success, and it has nothing to do with weather or the seasonal change.

“You need really dedicated people,” Miller said of the 100-plus expected volunteers who help put on the event. “But you also really need to be able to reach out to the community and find someone to step up when somebody else is too burnt out from volunteering and decides to step down.”

It’s that persistence, or perseverance, from community members that has kept the fun fall run chugging along a quarter century later.

“All you can hope for is someone to keep the traditions going, and to create new things within that tradition,” she said. “This is a big community effort — with parents and teachers and students all lending a hand, and we hope it continues to be that for the next 25 years.”

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