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Road Race to end its run

January 24, 2017 Digital Media Exclusive

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The Butler Road Race is reaching its finish line.

BRR president Mike Franko formally announced Monday that the 42nd consecutive Butler Road Race — slated for June 24 — will be its last.

The Butler Road Race Board made the decision to cease operation at a meeting last week.

“It’s with somewhat of a heavy heart that we must bring this race to a close,” Franko said. “But we do so with pride in our ability to conduct a first- class event, while supporting many outstanding student-athletes.

“Just like any race, there’s always a finish line.”

Franko has been president of the event for 18 years. The core of the BRR Board consists of members who have been actively involved in the race for more than 35 years.

“Longtime members of the board need time to go in other directions,” Franko said. “We haven’t been able to recruit enough new people to transition forward.”

Franko pointed out how much work goes on behind-the-scenes just to put on the Road Race, including securing the use of Diamond Park, traffic control, police involvement, a volunteer crew of roughly 100 people, and taking care of portable toilets, trash, race registration, timing the race and T-shirt distribution.

Race director Mike Blessel has been involved with the BRR since 1981.

“It’s a sad day,” Blessel said. “We never wanted to see this race end. We always wanted it to last forever.

“The plan was always to bring in new blood, transition people to run it and then we would gracefully fade away. But we could never generate that commitment.”

Blessel said that a number of new people have joined the board over the years, “but family situations change, they move because of a job, people would drop off ... We never developed the continuity we had hoped for.”

Rick Davanzati, Jr. — whose late father was a co-founder of the race — is also saddened to see it go. Davanzati has been on the board for all 42 years of the BRR’s existence.

“It’s been a part of my life for two-thirds of my life,” Davanzati said. “It’s a legacy to my dad, but I was among the ones who voted to have this be our last race.

“I’d rather see it end this way, go out with a nice race with people understanding the circumstances, rather than just walk away now with everyone wondering what happened.”

The BRR Board has 16 members, including Ken DeFurio, president and CEO of Butler Health System, the primary sponsor of the race for years.

“Ken has done so much for this race. I don’t know where we’d be without him and the hospital’s support,” Davanzati said.

The Butler Road Race was created in 1976 as a downtown event held in conjunction with the nation’s bicentennial. The first race was a 10k that drew 169 runners.

More than 1,000 runners participated in the early 1980s and prize money was presented to lure Olympic and national caliber runners to the event. But after giving more than $64,000 to runners outside of the Butler area, the board decided to bring the money back to Butler in the form of academic scholarships for cross country runners.

“That scholarship program is something we’re very proud of. The last class to receive the scholarships will be the Class of 2018,” Franko said.

That scholarship money will come from the proceeds of the June 24 race this year.

Since 1993, the Butler Road Race has provided 741 scholarships amounting to $389,550 to Butler County cross country runners. Those numbers are expected to balloon to 800 scholarships totaling $425,000 before the Road Race is ended.

Since 1976, there have been 27,920 runners finishing the race in front of the county courthouse.

“We’ve been at this for a long time, and we’ve done it well,” Franko said. “Many of us did a lot of running and racing ourselves.”

Blessel said that “42 years is a long time, but it’s time. We’re going out the right way.”

“It’s difficult seeing it end, but I understand,” Davanzati said. “Most of this board has been at it for more than 30 years.

"None of us wanted to see it come to a close.”

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