All systems are a go for the first Susquehanna River Running Festival in Havre de Grace Saturday, after concerns earlier this week that the festival might have to be canceled because of potential bad weather.
Hurricane Florence is forecast to stay south, however, and as many as 1,500 runners are expected for the half-marathon and relay over the Hatem Bridge, the 5K in downtown Havre de Grace and the after-party overlooking the scenic Chesapeake Bay, race officials said.
The race benefits the Harford County based Al Cesky Scholarship Foundation.
Organizers spoke Wednesday with all the agencies involved “and so far everybody is on board” and the resources necessary will be available, Dominic Corson, the Cesky Scholarship Committee chairman, said.
“The weather forecast has really improved and we think it’s going to be a great day,” Corson said.
Race registrations will be accepted through the day of the race, he said.
Organizers had said the race would be canceled and not rescheduled when forecasts earlier this week predicted extreme storms throughout Maryland due to Hurricane Florence’s expected arrival late this week.
“There are too many logistical issues to reschedule something like this,” Corson said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday issued an executive order to allow the state to more efficiently coordinate support and provide assistance to local jurisdictions within Maryland and neighboring states if Hurricane Florence hits the area, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
Agencies that will be helping with the running festival, such as fire, police, EMS, would have instead been needed to help with potential flooding or other emergencies, Corson said.
“If there’s a potential for flooding, or other issues, they’re not going to let a running event stop them from doing what they have to do to protect the public,” Corson said. “We’re working as if it’s going to happen. All we can do is assume it’s going to happen and if they say no, we can’t do it, then we can’t do it.”
Organizers have been hoping the race would go on.
“We want to do it, we’ve been thinking about it for six years, and working on it hard for two years,” he said. “But the storm is 1,000 miles away, who knows what could happen?”
An avid runner, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman will welcome participants at the starting line and then join in the race.
“Whether you’re a runner or a spectator, the first annual Susquehanna River Running Festival will be an event to remember in Harford County,” Glassman said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to a good race for a great cause.”
As of Wednesday, more than 1,400 people had registered for the running festival. As of Thursday, about 80 percent of them were registered for the half-marathon, Corson said.
The race is attracting runners from across the county. About 40 percent of those registered are from outside Harford County, coming from 15 states including Texas, California, Florida and Maine, he said.
“The course is beautiful,” Corson said. “We really think this is going to be a destination event.”
The half-marathon and relay start on South Union Avenue in Havre de Grace and go across the 100-foot high Thomas J. Hatem Bridge — the eastbound lanes will be closed to traffic — to Perryville, through the town and onto Perry Point for about a 3-mile loop.
At Perry Point, runners will follow a path along the confluence of the Susquehanna River and the Chesapeake Bay and will be able to see across to Havre de Grace. They’ll run a short distance in Perryville Community Park before coming back onto Perry Point property, where relay runners will meet.
In Perry Point, about 100 veterans will be cheering the runners along the way.
“They’re super excited,” Corson said. “That will be an emotional part.”
Once runners leave Perry Point, they’ll go back through the Town of Perryville, across the bridge and finish near the entrance to Tydings Park in Havre de Grace.
Corson said he’s gotten a lot of positive feedback about the course, including from a local biking group leader, who said he thinks it’s a “world-class course.”
“Think of all the variables along the way — small, historic towns, a bridge crossing, a long waterfront stretch overlooking the river and bay,” Corson said.
It should also be a fast course. The only real hill will be the one at the beginning approaching the Hatem Bridge. After that, there will be what Corson called “mini-hills,” but he said once runners get to the bridge on the way back, “it’s pretty much downhill except for some small inclines.”
Runners also like the medals and other premiums for the race and are excited for the after-party with live entertainment, a craft beer garden and food provided by Coakley’s Pub until noon in Tydings Park.
To limit parking in downtown Havre de Grace, shuttle service to and from the race is being provided from Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen and Hollywood Casino Perryville.
Harford County is also providing several of its LINK buses to take people who aren’t running to and from downtown Havre de Grace while they wait for their runner.
Corson said he wants drivers to be aware that traffic coming into Harford County from Cecil County will be detoured beginning at about 7 a.m. Saturday, when the eastbound lanes of Route 40 will be shut down for the race. That traffic will be redirected into the westbound lanes and all westbound traffic will be detoured along Route 222 to Interstate 95.
The closure should last until about 11 a.m. Any runners who don’t get to the bridge by about 10:30 a.m. or so will have to take a bus across.
Things are going smoothly for a race that has been “very complex” to work out, Corson said, with the race going through four different governmental jurisdictions — the City of Havre de Grace, the Maryland Transportation Authority, the Town of Perryville and the Veterans Administration of Maryland.
Registration for Saturday’s race is still open at www.susquehannarunfest.org/.
All proceeds benefit the Al Cesky Scholarship Fund, a nonprofit, volunteer organization dedicated to awarding college scholarships to high school scholar-athletes who honor the values of the late Al Cesky, a legendary coach and athletic director at Bel Air High School as well as for Harford County Public Schools.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, Cesky, who was Bel Air’s first football coach, led his teams to three undefeated seasons. He also coached basketball and baseball at the school.
Later, as director of athletics for Harford County Public Schools, Cesky introduced interscholastic girls soccer, boys and girls lacrosse, golf and swimming. Following his death in 1985, he was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Scholastic High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
Cesky Scholarship winners are stellar Harford County students scholastically and athletically and must give back to the community inside and outside of their school, according to the foundation’s mission statement.
The Al Cesky Scholarship Fund awards $54,000 in scholarships annually and has exceeded the $1 million mark in total giving over 33 years.
“The Al Cesky Scholarship award is the largest honor that can be bestowed upon a graduating senior in Harford County, supporting athletes who excel on and off the field,” said Dr. Jennifer Bepple, a Havre de Grace High School graduate and 1996 Cesky scholarship recipient, who is a urologist in Howard County.
Andrew Berry, a 2005 Cesky scholar and former Bel Air High School and Harvard University football standout, is vice president of pro-player personnel for the Cleveland Browns.
“I’m proud to be associated with the Al Cesky Scholarship Fund because of its representation of scholastic and athletic excellence. The intersection of these spheres has shaped my life from an early age until now,” Berry said. “I’m thankful for the work of the Cesky family to recognize high schoolers with similar backgrounds and support them with their long-term goals.”