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They put their best feet forward

October 12, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Rounding a turn on the cross-country course at Eastern Elementary School Saturday morning was a chorus of heavy breathing from fourth-grade girls - music to Darrell Eichelberger's ears.

The girls, who came from elementary schools throughout the Washington County, were among the hundreds participating in the county's 22nd annual cross-country races.

As they passed Eichelberger, some of the girls ran with nary a hint of exhaustion. Others lagged behind, slowing from a jog to a walk.

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Eichelberger, a physical education teacher at Eastern, urged them all onward.

"Watch that first hill. Watch that first hill!" he said. "Run around me. Don't stop. Don't stop."

To two stragglers: "You're doing great ladies. You're doing fine. It's all over soon."

Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade boys and girls can participate in the voluntary races. Third-graders run 1,000 meters, fourth-graders run 1,200 meters and fifth-graders run a mile. The course winds through trees, around a barn, across a large field and, finally, to the finish line, where a throng of spectators cheered on all the students.

Getting children on their feet and away from video games is one of Eichelberger's goals. Past winners have gone on to become state champions, and some keep running through college.

From the first runner to finish to the last, all receive an award.

"That makes me feel good," Eichelberger said.

Last year, a student with cerebral palsy was determined to compete and did.

"The smile on that kid's face as he passed me ... that's what it's all about," Eichelberger said.

As she waited for all of the boys in her son's race to finish, Roxanne Ober discussed her son's preparations. Max, 8, strategized with his older brother, who ran the race a couple of years ago. He donned his zip-away pants with navy blue shorts on underneath.

And he breakfasted.

"Hash browns. That's what he needed to eat, he said," Ober said.

Max, who finished 14th, posed for pictures with friends afterward.

"I liked it," he said.

First to cross the finish line in the third-grade boys race was Austin Scott, 8. Austin, who also plays football and baseball, ran the race in cleats. After prodding from his mother, Austin said he had practiced a bit for the race.

His champion breakfast?

"A sucker," his mother, Marlene Scott, said with a stern look. "You know what they say, sugar gets the blood going. A sucker. ..."

Marlene Scott said the race is a great event for children.

"Kids like it whether they win or lose. That's the best part," she said.

As for Austin, he'll be back next year with hopes of taking home another trophy.

"He always puts his all in everything he does," Scott said. "Everything he tries, he tries 100 percent."

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