SALEM-In 1993, a group of Salem parents formed a booster club called the Salem X-Tra Mile Club and began discussing new ways to raise money for the high school's running programs. Their idea was to hold a night 5K run through Centennial Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.
Realistically, all they were hoping to do was break even.
Two decades later, it's safe to say they did better than that, as the Star Trax 5K Night Run has grown into one of the area's most popular summer events.
On Aug. 3, the X-Tra Mile club will celebrate a milestone when they host the 20th annual Night Run. More than 800 runners are expected to be on hand at Reilly Stadium, over 600 more than the original race.
"We never would have expected that this race would last for 20 years," said Kay Oster, one of the original founders. "We were just hoping to pay all of our expenses with the first race, we never thought it would take off like it has."
"This race has all the atmosphere of a football game," said current race co-director Ted Marroulis, "Last year, head football coach Ron Johnson came by, looked at the stadium and said he hoped to draw as many people on Friday nights."
As part of the 20th anniversary celebration, Oster, her husband John, and eleven other charter members of the X-Tra Mile Club will be on hand to serve as honorary starters. Those members are: Ernie and Carol Rea, Bill and Linda Lutz, Terry and Bonnie Nye, Howard and Priscilla Sommers, Bill and Pat Julian, and Renee Helmick.
"Being back is going to be exciting," said Oster, who now resides in Marion, Ohio. "For so many years I was working the race, it's going to be fun to watch it."
The plan for a night race was formed after several members of the founding group attended a 5K night run in Mercer, Pa. They believed that a similar race could be pulled off in Salem.
The request for community volunteers was met with enthusiasm, and the first event drew 161 runners, surpassing everyone's expectations. The X-Tra Mile Club decided to throw all its efforts behind the 5K run and make it the lone fundraising event. The race continued to grow steadily in the following years, with enough money being generated to support both the boys and girls track and cross country teams with pizza parties, food for team activities, and other financial needs.
"The race would have never gotten off the ground without community support," Marroulis said. "We get more than a hundred people who volunteer their time every year. We would not be able to do it without their help."
This year's event will follow a very similar route to the first one, through Centennial Park, with the starting and ending points at Reilly Stadium. Residents along the route place and light luminaries in front of their homes to assist the runners. The last few years have seen the race nearly double in participation, and this year organizers are expecting their biggest turnout yet.
Co-director Ted Yuhanik feels the biggest reason for the growth is that the race caters to runners first and foremost.
"This is my eleventh year helping out, and every year during that time we've really tried to make this a premium event," Yuhanik said. "We've spent money on high quality trophies for the prize winners, we provide fresh fruit to the runners, and we also have a DJ to help make it a festive atmosphere. Those things, in addition to a reasonable price, are all things that runners appreciate and enjoy."
The race's stature was also helped when the course was certified by USA Track and Field in 2007. Another touch that has been added in recent years is the use of an electronic chip that runners can place inside their shoe and will register all of their information as they cross the finish line.
"The chip has been hugely popular," Marroulis said. "We have a lot of running enthusiasts who participate in our race and keep track of their times. Running on a USATF certified course is also a big deal for a lot of people."
While the race takes care of serious runners, Marroulis said that, at heart, the 5K is a fun, relaxing opportunity for the community to come together.
"This race is about more than making money," Marroulis said. "It is a fun community event, something that gets everyone involved and encourages people to come out during the middle of summer and have a good time."
Registration for the 2013 Star Trax 5K begins at 7 p.m. Aug. 3 at Reilly Stadium. The Race begins at 9 p.m. Cost of race-day registration is $18. More information can be found at startrax5K.com.