More than 3,000 people are expected to take part in the 108th annual New Orleans Athletic Club’s Turkey Day Race on Thanksgiving morning.
Among that number, however, are several dozen runners who have a goal in mind higher than getting in a good workout before gorging on the holiday meal.
They are part of the Turkey Day Alumni Championships — an unofficial competition that has become a tradition within one of the oldest road races in the United States.
Former high school cross country runners populate races throughout the city. But in the Turkey Day Alumni Championships, they wear their old high school racing singlets and compete against one another for school pride as they did years ago.
They score the alumni teams as they would in a high school cross country meet, and the winning squad gets not only bragging rights for the year, but also gets a wooden trophy dubbed “Running Man.”
The “competition” began in 2004, when Brother Martin alums beat Jesuit graduates for the first “title.”
Other top teams throughout the years have been mostly from the Catholic League (Rummel, Holy Cross,) but St. Paul’s on the north shore has long been a force, and Newman grads have fielded competitive teams, among others. There also was a women’s competition in 2010, when Mount Carmel Academy led the scoring.
Brother Martin grad Drew Haro (Class of 2003) has kept extensive records to keep track of the alumni group’s history. The consensus idea is that the Turkey Day Race is a great time to have an alumni competition because many top runners would return home to visit family for Thanksgiving, making the field stronger.
“In the grand scale of things, I don’t know important it is,” Haro said. “But in the blink of an eye, here we are doing this more than 10 years. It started out with a few guys having fun, doing a little trash talk. And people keep coming back. Tradition runs deep in this city and in this race. So it just seems fitting that we can live vicariously through our high school experiences.
“It’s neat, if anything,” Haro said.
St. Paul’s Pat Gavin (Class of 2001) agreed.
“It’s one of my favorite races of the year,” Gavin said. “It’s beautiful weather, and it’s a great way to start Thanksgiving Day. You see some of the best guys from way back when. My favorite part definitely is the alumni competition.”
Sean Fitzwilliam (Jesuit, Class of 1996,) said the “element of surprise” is intriguing. The Blue Jays team won the competition in 2014.
“The people who were really good in high school may not be as good now because they don’t run as much,” he said. “And some people who were just OK may be very good now because they run a lot. You never know who’s going to show up. It depends on who’s in town and who’s in shape. You really don’t know who’s on your team until you show up that morning.”
Fitzwilliam offered an interesting take on an interesting competition.
“This is fun because it is competitive,” he said. “It’s not just another race. Most of us run against one another all the time. But this one is special because of what it represents — running for your school. I’ll definitely have my Jesuit singlet on.”
Brendan Minihan Jr. (Newman, Class of 1993) said though the alumni competition is “unofficial,” it really isn’t for most who take part.
“It is always intense and heated,” he said.
The official event, the NOAC Turkey Day Race, is hosted by the New Orleans Track Club and it benefits Spina Bifida of Greater New Orleans. The 5-mile run/walk will start outside Tad Gormley Stadium in City Park at 8:30 a.m. It ends inside the stadium named for the man who began the Turkey Day Race 108 years ago.
There will be food, snacks, and drinks for all who register. The event is known for its many runners and walkers who don colorful costumes. The Turkey Day Race is one of the largest events the NOTC stages. A ½-mile race for children also will be held.
Race-day registration begins outside of Tad Gormley Stadium at 7 a.m. For more information, go online to www.runnotc.org or call (504) 304-2326.