Community members are invited next week to lace up their sneakers and come out to support middle school athletes.
The Big South 5K Road Race, beginning and ending at Blakeney Shopping Center Oct. 23, will serve as a fundraiser for sports in middle schools throughout Mecklenburg and Union counties.
When participants register for the race, they can choose to select a “middle school affiliation,” which means a portion of their registration fee will go directly to that school’s athletic booster club.
“During these tough times of budget cuts and reduced funding, many middle schools have been forced to become self-sufficient and implement a ‘pay to play’ program,” explained Chad Cook, head of marketing for the Big South Conference and event director for the 5K. “Our goal with the Big South 5K is to provide a fun opportunity for the community to help these middle school booster clubs raise funds.
“The Big South Conference is proud to sponsor a community event that not only promotes a healthy lifestyle but also creates a fundraising opportunity for local middle school athletic programs.”
In Charlotte middle schools, student athletes pay to participate in football, golf, cheerleading, softball and volleyball in the fall, basketball and cheerleading in the winter and baseball, soccer and track in the spring.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ board discussed eliminating middle school sports altogether as a possible solution for the economic troubles. Cutting sports would have saved the district approximately $1.2 million.
Instead, the board voted in May to save middle school athletics by implementing the pay to play program that charges middle school athletes $50 for each season they participate in. High school student athletes pay $100 per season.
Students who are considered economically disadvantaged and qualify for free or reduced lunch can apply for a waiver that allows them to play without paying the fee. The district and individual schools set up scholarship funds to support student athletes who can’t afford to pay to play.
District Superintendent Peter Gorman said in August the program would need 85 percent of students to pay the participation fee for the school district to break even, but approximately 50 percent of all students across the district qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The district has made up the difference with donations from organizations like the Touchdown Club of Charlotte, the NFL Player’s Association and the Charlotte Bobcats.
The proceeds from the 5K will help close the gap further.
Registration is open online at bigsouth5k.racesonline.com. The registration fee is $20 through Saturday, Oct. 16, and $25 from Friday, Oct. 15 until race day. The registration fee includes an official race T-shirt. On the day of the event, registration and packet pickup will run from 7 to 7:45 a.m., followed by the race at 8.
More than 360 people of all ages already have registered. Those who want to help out but are unable to attend the 5K can register as phantom runners, which earns them an event T-shirt.
The 3.1-mile course will wind around Blakeney Heath and Rea roads, a route described by race organizers as “scenic and shady.” Participants will have access to a water stop during the race and to food, beverages and music at the finish line.
Runners can choose to enter the race as part of a team, and each team must have at least five members. Whether participants run individually or as part of a team, they will be eligible for overall awards, awards for fastest man and woman and awards based on age.
The 5K will kick off the 4th annual Blakeney Boo! Bash, which lasts from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be live music, magicians, pumpkin decorating and a moon bounce for everyone to enjoy, and people can register to win gift certificates from Blakeney merchants.
Children can participate in a costume parade led by their favorite cartoon characters at 1 p.m. The parade will kick off from the Village Green.
Blakeney restaurants will offer complimentary samples of their goods during A Bite of Blakeney from 2 to 3 p.m.
The Big South Conference is comprised of 10 universities across the Southeast whose students compete in 18 championship sports. A portion of the proceeds will go toward a new scholarship opportunity for student athletes at Big South schools in the Carolinas and Virginia.
To learn more about the 5K, visit bigsouth5k.racesonline.com.