Wilton coaches devise a ‘Run a Mile’ program

A program to encourage kids to run a mile is underway in FCIAC territory.

A program to encourage kids to run a mile is underway in FCIAC territory.

Matthew Brown / Hearst Connecticut Media

WILTON — Thanks to a couple of Wilton High School coaches, kids across the FCIAC region have an opportunity for some outdoor exercise, competitive fun and even fundraising.

The brainchild of Jeff Gee, the girls’ track and field coach, and Jim Gerweck, the boys’ coach, the Club Connecticut-sponsored program is offering four weeks of unofficial virtual competition for high school students throughout the 12-town, 17-school Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

“The FCIAC Run A Mile program accomplishes a variety of goals,” Gee said, beginning with giving kids a reason to run in a time that’s seen sporting restrictions due to COVID-19.

Students, on behalf of their schools, can register for one or more races in a four-week series that began with registration on April 26 and runs through Saturday, May 23.

During each week, for each race, students can run a mile and register their best time. They can even take multiple attempts at it and put in their best times for each of seven days, but only their top time will count.

It’s on the honor system, and results aren’t official by any means, but the coaches and organizers are hoping it still serves to generate some competition.

“The season’s on hold, but here’s something for your distance runner to do,” Gerweck said.

While the program is free to participants, student runners — who don’t even have to be on a school team to take part — can also raise money through donations, with the Fairfield County COVID-19 Resilience Fund the recipient.

“Jim Gerweck and Jeff Gee approached me with this idea of a virtual run and we thought it would be a great way to keep our athletes active while also honoring our frontline heroes,” said Dave Schulz, FCIAC commissioner.

“The concept of participating as a solo runner makes it safe,” he said, “and conforms to the social-distancing policies in place in our state.”

Gerweck said others helped in formulating the idea for the program, including Jay Egan, New Canaan’s athletic director, who suggested the concept of multiple runs for students.

“Our frontline heroes are working tirelessly to battle COVID-19 and to keep the rest of us safe,” said Chris McDougal, Wilton’s athletic director.

“So let’s show (them) how much we appreciate them,” he said. “It’s not about how fast you can run a mile. It’s about showing your appreciation.”

“I think most kids are a bit depressed about the reality that their season may be lost,” Gee said. “They have lots of energy, are competitive, and they want to perform.”

He said the one-mile goal seemed a reasonable one for individual accomplishment — manageable and also a significant challenge.

“And people don’t have to put a time down,” Gerweck said. “They can just say they ran it.”

Further, with the different school districts engaged in distance learning, physical education teachers in particular have faced challenges with creating relevant activities for their students to participate in.

“Our physical education and health teachers, and coaches are working hard on e-learning and e-coaching like the classroom teachers,” McDougal said.

“This is a way for the students to get some added exercise, while understanding the benefits,” he said, and also having a chance to give back to the community through the fundraising aspect.

Gerweck said initially the group hoped to raise $1,000 through the donations, but the goal has since been bumped up to $2,000 because so many contributions have been forthcoming.

“Hopefully it keeps growing,” he said.

“It is starting to gain momentum,” Schulz said, with more than 325 students participating as of Tuesday, May 5.

At this time, Trumbull is leading the pack of entrants, with 54 participants, followed by Greenwich with 43. Westhill in Stamford has registered 34, with Wilton right behind at 33.

Students are encouraged to get involved, even if they only do the last race.

“It raises money for a good cause,” Gerweck said, “and perhaps most importantly, it adds another athletic dimension for the athletes — and anyone else for that matter — to fuel their competitive aspirations.

For more information, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/CT/Anywhere/FCIACRunAMile