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The Kelley race, as it turns 50, continues on without an entry fee

By Joe Wojtas

Publication: The Day

Published July 20. 2012 4:00AM

August 4 will mark the 50th anniversary of the region's most prestigious race - the John and Jessie Kelley Ocean Beach Road Race, an 11.6-mile event that like the day it began still has no entry fee.

Compare that to the $50 to $75 you can expect to pay for a similar distance race put on by a for-profit group.

And they don't give you the "world famous Port 'N Starboard clam chowder" after the race.

"It's a throwback race to the days when there were no big prizes, no t-shirts. It was a time when running was really, really pure," said Way Hedding of SNERRO who has overseen the race for the last 25 years. "We want to keep it like the old days."

Unfortunately both John and Jessie, who lived in Mystic and were the first family of southeastern Connecticut running, are no longer with us. Jessie passed away in 2003 and John, who was the 1957 Boston Marathon champion and a two-time Olympian, died last August.

The race, also marks the golden anniversary of the Southern New England Road Race Officials, which we all know as SNERRO.

The organization was started 50 years ago by Jack Dempsey, Tony Sabilia, Butch McGowan and Tony Pero to run the Ocean Beach race.

At that point the race was held in conjunction with a Schaefer beer festival at the beach. In later years it was named after John Kelley and then Jessie after she died.

Today, SNERRO times many other races each year and does a flawless job while making events fun for runners.

While costs increase each year, Hedding said it is important to keep the race free for the runners. Sponsors such as Pepsi and the Ocean Beach along with some private benefactors help defray the costs.

"We do whatever it takes to keep it free," he said.

Hedding said he expects a big crowd this year as many past winners are expected to return. Five hundred people finished the race last year and he said 15-20 new entries have been coming in each day. You can also sign up the day of the race.

The race begins at 9 a.m. at the beach in New London. The band Run for Cover, which was originally formed back in 1995 by a group of Mohegan Striders, provides the live music after the race. There is also a post-race raffle and Hedding encourages people along the route to put out water and hoses for the runners. Applications are available at www.snerro.com.

Also on had this year will be the organization Soles4Souls, which collects gently used running shoes for people in Haiti.

While this year's race would have seemed to be perfect opportunity to implement a small entry fee to help pay for the planned statue of John Kelley in Mystic, organizers of both efforts say they want to keep the race free. And I'm sure the always humble Mr. Kelley would be very upset is a free race was ended to pay for his statue.

Jim Roy, the president of the non profit John Kelley Memorial Fund, said that $28,000 has been raised so far for the statue, which is expected to cost between $70,000 and $100,000.

"We'll get there. Its just a matter of time," he said.

He and fund members are continuing their discussion with Mystic River Park officials about locating the statue there.

While Roy said he will not be at the race asking for donations, he said he's always willing to accept a check if someone wants to hand him one.

For information about the statue and how to donate go to www.johnkelley.org.

On the schedule: The second annual Greeneville Mile will be held Saturday, July 28 at 10 a.m at the Greeneville Congregational Church, 143 Prospect St. in Norwich. It is part of the Run Amok one-mile racing series. For more information contact Ray Guillet at 860-30-0344 or rayguillet@att.net. Applications are available at www.snerro.com.

Joe Wojtas is The Day's running columnist

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