By Pete Chiodo
As part of its preseason regimen, the Meadville Bulldogs hockey team would typically endure what is referred to as “The Leech Run.” Starting at the Meadville Area Recreation Complex, the players would slog their way to the tip of Tamarack Lake and back again, returning after a 4-mile journey.
“The kids hate it,” admitted David Schepner, the stepfather of Bulldogs senior Josh Orr.
Despite the feelings about that already grueling chore, during this past offseason Schepner proposed the idea of extending that run to 6 miles.
This cannot have been a popular concept.
And yet, “When they proposed it at our banquet (in April), there was no opposition,” said Bulldogs head coach Jamie Plunkett. “Everybody has bought into it.”
Why? Well, there are some perks to this elongated run. For example, instead of the back streets of Meadville, this run will take place in downtown Pittsburgh. And instead of the team making the trip alone, they’ll be joined by around 10,000 to 15,000 other runners. And instead of simply improving their cardio for the upcoming season, the Bulldogs have also found a way for their efforts to benefit others.
That’s because this year the hockey team will be participating in The Great Race, an annual 10K run that takes place in Pittsburgh. This year’s edition is Sunday morning
The Bulldogs will be using the race as a fundraiser. Each runner — which includes around 20 players and 15 other parents, coaches and other members of the Meadville hockey circle — came up with $100 in donations. Half the money they generated will be used to support the Bulldogs hockey team. The other half will go to a very deserving cause.
On June 18, Joseph Clark, a 12-year-old from Vernon Township fell ill and was quickly diagnosed with glioblastoma — a brain tumor.
“And he had emergency brain surgery on the 19th,” said Lori Clark, Joseph’s mother. “It was that quick.”
The surgery and subsequent treatment appear to have been effective.
“He doesn’t have it anymore. They took it out,” said Lori, who accompanied Joseph to the MARC on Monday where he dropped the ceremonial first puck for the Bulldogs’ exhibition game against Pittsburgh Central Catholic.
“He’s on chemo now, again, for the second time. He’s going to be on it for a year. He already went through radiation,” she added. “He’s just had his first MRI and they didn’t see anything, so ... sorry, I’m going to cry now.”
The hockey team will donate half of the money they’ve generated to help Clark and his family continue the fight.
“Renee Ray, who is the mother of one of the players, Bryan Ray, said she knew of a family who needed help,” said Schepner. “And when she told us about Joseph, I said, ‘Absolutely.’”
The running team representing Meadville hockey had already ordered group T-shirts for the race. But once the Clark family agreed to come on board, “we went and had the T-shirts changed,” said Schepner.
They now read “2013, The Great Race for Joseph Clark.’”
Printing T-shirts wasn’t the only preparation needed for The Great Race. The runners also needed to get in shape to run the 6.2-mile course, which begins at Frick Park in Homewood and winds its way west to Point State Park.
So, throughout the summer they gradually extended the original route of the Leech run (named for its midway point at the residence of former Bulldogs player Dan Leech). First they tacked on a mile to make it 5 miles total, and then broadened the run to 6 miles, adding a brutal climb up the hill on Devore Road towards Williamson Road.
“That hill is a killer,” said Plunkett.
In the process, however, Plunkett finds his hockey team entering the season — which officially begins Monday at home against McDowell — in terrific shape.
“Absolutely,” said Plunkett. “I think it’s going to be a win-win for both sides.”
Not that the players have fallen in love with running or anything.
“They’re miserable about the running,” said Schepner,” but they love the cause.”