Ware, who’s served as the head coach of the Bulldogs boys’ basketball program for the past dozen years, and his towering presence were symbolic of the high school’s added visibility at this year’s race.
The race — which served as the Road Runners Club of America 5K national championship — was painted proud with Bulldogs maroon, black and white. Anniston administrators, coaches, players, family and friends showed up in droves at the event, which is run in and around the school’s campus.
Administrators and coaches corralled and coordinated students, who volunteered in various capacities, beginning an hour before the race’s 7:30 a.m. scheduled start time.
The Bulldogs’ 2009 football team donned their grey and white game jerseys as they assisted however they could and cheered on runners, encouraging them to finish the hilly course.
AHS’ increased involvement came after the minds and muscle at the school and the host Anniston Runners Club met to make it happen. Runners Club president Brooke Nelson said she and Anniston City Schools superintendent Joan Frazier spoke as Nelson and her team were setting up for last year’s race.
They discussed the possibility of expanding the school’s participation beyond the Junior Reserve Office Training Corp program, which had been active in the race’s festivities the three previous years.
“This year, the response was overwhelming,” Nelson said. “The response was very positive. We had the football team out there, the cheerleaders, the band, the track team, and the JROTC, as well as student volunteers.
“There’s nothing better than competing in a race and you’ve got a whole football team filled with handsome, fit young men telling you you’re awesome and you’re going to make it.”
Anniston athletics director and head football coach Alex Wilson said the team made the event their community service project for the summer.
“This (event) is part of the community,” Wilson said. “We like to give back. This is our community project for the summer. We usually do cleanups. The kids have had fun with this.”
Junior Josiah Atkins is set to the be the Bulldogs’ starting quarterback once again when they begin the season on Aug. 27 against Alexandria. He and his teammates arrived at 6:45 a.m. to begin helping out.
“We’ve had fun,” Atkins, said. “Everyone has been asking us, ‘What kind of year are ya’ll about to have?’ and I tell them, ‘A good one.’ Everyone’s been telling us they’re going to come out and support us.”
The Bulldogs even lent talent to the already deep Woodstock field.
Rising senior Darice Bowie won the 17-19-year-old girls division of the race, running the 3.1-mile course in 22 minutes flat. Bowie, a sprinter by trade, captured the Class 4A state championship in the 400 and the triple jump this past spring at the state meet in Gulf Shores.
Bowie said she’s been busy with volleyball and basketball practice this summer and hadn’t had time to train for the 5K, apart from running it a little during this past season while preparing for the 400.
“I just did it,” she said. “It’s harder (than what she normally runs), but I just tried to stay in front. “I didn’t want to be last.” She finished far from it. She was 11th among all women competitors and 99th overall, regardless of sex or age.
Ware said his team ran the Woodstock course three to four times per week before practice during their state championship run last season. It was a way to weed out those who wanted it from those who didn’t, he said. He also said having more Anniston kids in the race could help broaden their horizons.
“It’s a real good opportunity to see other sports than what we regularly participate in,” he said. “Running is great and not just for football and basketball. They might get out here and see how hard these people work and say, ‘Hey, I want to do that.’ Who knows? The next marathon runner might come from here.”