Running with a purpose

Haddonfield’s July Mileage Challenge benefits area seniors via Interfaith Caregivers.

Haddonfield’s July Mileage Challenge has set the goal of running 1,500 total miles with supporters pledging a penny or more for each mile the team runs. The money will be donated to Interfaith Caregivers, supporting its support mission of facilitating independent living of senior and disabled neighbors in Haddonfield. (DAVE STEWART/For The Sun)

After spending the final three months of the school year apart with the sports season shut down, the Haddonfield Memorial High School boys cross country team got the band back together this summer.

Each morning this month they’d risen early for their morning run. At 7:30 a.m. they meet up at the Anniversary Field parking lot, stretch, and then run.

But their daily workout is about more than getting in shape for the 2020-2021 school year. The Bulldawgs are running for a cause and working with the community to help others.

Haddonfield’s July Mileage Challenge has set the goal of running 1,500 total miles this month with supporters pledging a penny or more for each mile the team runs. The funding generated from the pledges will be donated to Interfaith Caregivers, supporting its mission of facilitating independent living of senior and disabled neighbors in Haddonfield.

“It’s nice to be able to run for a cause to give back,” Caleb Clevenger said.

“It’s a good way to spend this time effectively and help out the people that need it,” added fellow rising senior John Hurly.

Assistant coach Dave Stewart had the idea of combining a summer workout with charity. After brainstorming some ideas, the coaching staff and team zoned in on Interfaith Caregivers, in part because head coach Nick Baker’s mother-in-law had benefited from the organization. 

“It was kind of an ah-ha moment when we thought of them,” Stewart said.

“They were just a godsend, so helpful and so nice,” Baker said. “I loved the idea and the chance to help a local place making a difference with COVID-19 going on.”

Interfaith Caregivers helps seniors in the Haddonfield and Haddon Heights area maintain their independence, provides door-to-door transportation to doctor’s appointments, assists with physical disabilities, and aids with shopping, errand-running and other services that have become more important during the pandemic. 

Anyone looking to help out such a place can do so by supporting the Bulldawgs cross country team this month. Donors can pledge as little as a penny per mile; should the boys reach their goal of 1,500 miles, that would translate to a donation of $15.

If you’re interested in making a pledge, you can contact Stewart at dstewart@haddonfield.k12.nj.us with “July Mileage Challenge” and the amount you’d like to pledge per mile in the subject line. The team is accepting pledges through July 31.

“It’s really been wonderful to watch,” said Stewart, who is tracking the pledges and mileage on the team’s website. “Particularly now that we’re in the mileage challenge of it, I’ve been keeping track of the paperwork and the donations and the community support has been absolutely wonderful. Some people just follow the runners, some from Haddonfield and the surrounding area want to support Interfaith Caregivers.

“Once we got to July 1, it went on the shoulders of these guys to get out there and get the miles. We haven’t exactly had wonderful weather. But it’s summertime and to get out there and see a big group out there on a summer morning, running through the humidity, it’s great to see.”

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Stewart estimated that the team had run around 250 miles in the first week of July, meaning they still had significant progress to make. But he’s also not doubting his team and is hopeful they can raise as much as $3,000.

“They’ve always been a good group and done a lot of (charity),” Stewart said. “But they’ve kind of compartmentalized. Like, here’s your running and here’s your community service. This is the first time we brought the two together and they’ve done a great job with it.”

“They’re putting in the work and we’re very proud of where they are,” Baker added. “One of the things I’ve thought a lot of is how our kids step up. They might drive us crazy at times but when they need to step up, they do … They try to do the right thing. They’ve been great and they’re getting the rest of the team to buy into it, too.”

For Clevenger, Hurly and the rest of the team’s seniors, it’s also provided an opportunity to bond during a summer following a lost spring sports season and an uncertain upcoming fall season. 

Last week, the Manhattan High School Cross Country Invitational, a premiere annual event scheduled for October, was cancelled. On the college level, Ivy League schools called off all varsity sports through the remainder of 2020.

“Obviously we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Clevenger said of his upcoming senior year. “The Manhattan meet was one of my favorite meets.”

“The precedent of that is terrifying,” Hurly added. “I think it will all work out. Me worrying about it, that isn’t going to help anybody.”

For now, the Bulldawgs will run in the moment, focusing on July and not fretting about the upcoming fall. And, in the process, they’ll work to help their community and get cherished time together as a team.

“Honestly that’s most of it, even the guys on the team who maybe aren’t as motivated to run with the pack or are running behind, they still feel part of the team with this,” Hurley said. “We try to hold team-wide exercises to try to get the team to bond more, things outside of practice. That’s a really important part of it.”