NEW BUFFALO — The Monday, May 20, New Buffalo 5K offered elementary, middle and high school students a variety of fun-filled events ranging from soccer and a dunk tank to face-painting and the 5K run/walk itself.

But the annual event, held at the Bison football field and Oselka Park, had a serious side as well — most of the students and faculty members dedicated their participation in honor of a loved one affected by cancer, their names inscribed on paper candy pieces attached to a “Finding a Cure for Cancer Would be Sweet” poster.

High School teacher Tracy Ripley announced that third-grade teacher and cancer survivor Maria Churchill would lead the start of the 5K on the track (after running/walking one lap, participants circled a course in Oselka Park).

“After winning her battle with cancer, she is certainly an inspiration to all of us,” Ripley said.

She also asked three New Buffalo Area Schools staff members who are retiring after the current school year to take center stage on the football field — English and Radio Teacher Liz Ditto, Business Manager Dan Coffman, and Middle School Secretary Barb Coffman.

“Mrs. Ditto was hired in August 1983. She taught P.E. for six years, and then taught English for the remaining years, adding to her repertoire the radio class.”

Ripley said Dan Coffman was hired as business manager in 2007.  

“Dan’s lifelong dream of riding Route 66 from start to finish is about to come true,” she said.

Ripley said Barb Coffman was hired in 1997 as the guidance secretary, moving to the Middle School secretary position in 2014.

Ripley thanked organizations and individuals for making the 5K event possible including: The Bison Boosters, the Elementary PTO, Patty Iazzetto, Ed Fidler and the cafeteria staff, Georgia Arvanitis for designing this year’s T-shirt, Barb Woerdehoff, Matt Johnson, Natalie Walter, Keith Carlson, Mark German and the entire maintenance staff, Marietta Meuli, the High School Student Senate, Vance Price and Lisa Knoll.

She also got the crowd fired up by announcing the “special guests” (including Middle/High School Principal Wayne Butler and teachers Curtis Brewster, Luis Sanchez, Vance Price, Nick Talbott) who would be on the anything but hot seat in the dunk tank on the cool, breezy afternoon.

As Brewster would later put it after being dunked, “Ooh, that is not warm!”

Although the 5K race was held “Just for fun,” it quickly became clear that first place would go to either high school track coach Nathan Jones or junior state-qualifier Liam Driscoll (who won both the 1,600 and 3,200 meter runs at the May 17 Division 4 regional meet).

The coach, a recent graduate of Hillsdale College (where he ran cross country and track), ended up crossing the finish line first in a stellar time of 16:42.

“It was more of a friendly competition, we weren’t going out there for time or anything,” Driscoll said, adding that they still had to do some running in track practice later that day.

Third-place went to another member of the track team, freshman Harrison Bourne.

The first female finisher was fifth-grader Ava Mancini

Those not running or walking the course had a variety of games and activities to choose from on the football field, drink and snack stations to visit, and of course, a chance to take their best shot at the dunk tank.

Proceeds from the New Buffalo 5K will benefit Camp Kesem, Andrew Keller, a 2017 NBHS graduate who is active in the Michigan State University chapter of the nation-wide, non-profit organization, said Camp Kesem supports children through and beyond their parents’ cancer treatment by giving them the chance to unwind and “just be kids” at a free summer camp.

“A cancer diagnosis really affects the entire family and people often overlook the affect that has on kids in the household,” he said.

Keller said there are more than 115 chapters at universities across the United States.

During the pre-5K announcement, Ripley said college students serve as counselors, programming staff and administrative staff.

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