A hurdle before starter’s cap

Story By: PEGGY SPELLMAN HOEY
4/12/2013


Bellport officials — prompted by safety concerns raised after the Turkey Trot in November — recently requested organizers meet a safety checklist for the Clipper Classic 5K this July.

The checklist, which was drawn up by the village’s code enforcement department, suggests Bellport Events Foundation, the community group that has taken over organizing the race this year, advertise the race’s time, date and course route, as well as notify residents who will be affected by the event. Village officials have also asked the group line the race route with barricades to block off streets and also enlist the aid of an adequate number of volunteers — outfitted with safety vests and radios. The checklist is meant to address security during the event, specifically how the course is maintained throughout the race’s duration.  Last winter, it was commented at the meeting, a resident complained the group, which also organizes the Turkey Trot, did not have volunteers stationed at the intersection of South Country Road and South Howells Point Road along the race course.

Mayor Will Veitch described the checklist as “a couple of things for our safety sake” and that it has become “more and more difficult” directing where the traffic will go.

“Despite closed-down streets, we have people who — believe it or not—just choose to go around barriers,” he said.

The race, which is traditionally held in July, begins outside of the Gateway Playhouse, then continues west along South Country Road to Head of Neck Road before coming to an end at the marina. The event draws about 1,000 runners and an additional 2,500 spectators into the village. 

Village officials are planning to meet with the group, which has filed for an event permit, in the coming weeks to discuss the race’s logistics and the checklist.

“We want to make sure that we are living up to our insurance regulations,” Veitch said. “We have to make sure that they have the insurance required in case anything happens.”

Veitch said the village’s requiring a checklist this time around is not an indication the race will be cancelled.

“I still think that the race will go on,” he said. “It’s a terrific event that the village hosts. We love having it.”

Gino Cruz, who has previously organized the race under the Bellport Girls Track and Field Club, said he is awaiting Bellport Events Foundation’s 501(c)(3) paperwork from the state and noted there has never been any safety issue with the race in previous years. 

In past years, volunteers — including members of the fire department — made sure the roadway was closed down after 5 p.m. and used “common sense” in regards to some streets. Out of the 50 to 60 volunteers working security along the race route, at least one every other block had a radio, while the others communicated via cell phone.

Cruz said much of the village’s requests are no different than any other year, other than they have asked for 50 barricades and 50 volunteers to man them. Cruz said he has 50 safety vests on hand for his volunteers and he has also put the word out for help. As for the village’s other requests, Cruz says he plans on fulfilling the requirements and will work with the village.

“I think it is just a power play over there and I am caught in the middle,” he said. “We have never had an incident; this is something out of the blue.”

Brendan Barrett, co-owner of Sayville Running Company, which helps organize races in the hamlet of Sayville, said his group does their best to notify residents of upcoming races.

“We always try to get out a mailing or something to the folks who live along the race course so they are aware ahead of time,” he said. 

The group arranges for barricades from the Town of Islip and on race days, volunteers don’t use radios but they are stationed at least one per corner, not to mention additional volunteers at water stations throughout the route, according to Barrett. The group has never encountered any issues with motorists driving through the race route, Barrett said, explaining that only a couple of cases have arisen where people have been very impatient — to the point of losing their tempers.

In the meantime, back in Bellport, another organizing group has stepped up to the plate, offering to run the Clipper Classic this year. The group, whose name was not available by deadline, has not filed a permit, according to officials.

Bellport Events Foundation board member Alison Neumann said she was surprised to learn the news of a new group throwing their hat into the race.

“I was a little taken aback by it,” said Neumann of the dueling group’s interest in the race. “I don’t know what the purpose is, but we are moving forward with putting together the Clipper Classic.” 

Neumann said there have never been any problems with the Clipper Classic before and noted the group has been working with village officials and plans to make sure the event goes smoothly.

“Right now, I think we are doing really well,” she said.

Veitch said he did not know off-hand the name of the group that has indicated interest in running the Clipper Classic. Regardless of the new group’s interest, one of the village’s most popular events will run its course.

“The race will go on, whether it is run by the group that Gino runs or by somebody else,” he said.

Village officials’ next meeting is April 29 at the Bellport Community Center.