Strawberry Festival Preview: Cascade School students train for big challenge: Strawberry Mile

Strawberry Festival 5K and Mile

Registration: 7:30-9 a.m. Saturday, June 2

Where: American Legion Parking Lot, 480 Main St.

Mile Fun Run/Walk at 9:30 a.m.

5K Race at 10 a.m. Flat, fast, out-and-back course.

Cost:  Varies, based on when you register.  For more information, visit

www.lebanonstrawberryfestival.com, click on “More” and on “Run/Walk”

By Scott Swanson
Lebanon Local

The children circle around two adults, who lead an enthusiastic group warm-up in the cool morning air, before the Strawberry Festival kids mile run.

There are a couple dozen of them and it’s clear that this is a routine. They perform stretches and various warm-up drills – correctly, as their leaders call out instructions.

When it comes time to start the race, they crowd the starting line and when the gun goes off, most take off, not in a mad dash as many of their competitors do, but at a steady, measured pace.

They obviously know what they’re doing. And they should, because they’ve learned to run from a veteran, former Lebanon High School and Corban athlete Sara Rogers.

Rogers started the club shortly after she began teaching at Cascade Elementary School after a year of coaching at the high school.

“I thought, ‘Why not start a running club?’”

The initial turnout was “10 to 15 kids,” she said, but it’s been gaining momentum.

This year the club has approximately 40 runners who are training for the Strawberry race, said current leader Nic Bowman, a Cascade teacher who helped Rogers last  year and took over when she took maternity leave.

“We’re having a pretty solid year,” he said. “We start after spring break and work toward June. Our main goal is the Strawberry Run.”

The club originally was limited to fourth- and fifth-graders, which is what Rogers initially taught, but when she moved to third grade, she felt the need to expand it by another grade. Most of the children train to run the mile, though a few more ambitious members might race the 5K (3.1 miles).

Rogers said she always has liked the Strawberry Festival race.

“One of my favorite things in college was to come back and run the Strawberry Run,” she said.

The school already has punch cards students can fill out during recess by running around the playground, Bowman said, with rewards offered to those who complete 25 laps. Club practices are more structured.

“The kids love getting their energy out,” Bowman said. “This allows them to engage in a club activity, to learn what this type of activity is all about. They just like being a part of the group and I’m thankful it’s a healthy group.”

Rogers said they spend time playing games that are intended to help the children warm up before running laps. They also learn to stretch.

“We trick them into getting in shape,” she said.

Bowman has introduced yoga at the end of practice, to help the children stretch and “reflect on at least one positive thing,” he said.

Self control and strategy are big emphases, Rogers said.

“They all start out running as fast as they can,” she said. “We talk about pacing. Our goal over the five to eight weeks is to run the race at pace.”

The actual Strawberry race is a big deal. Team members wear matching T-shirts and family members often show up to support them. The crowd makes the Strawberry Run special, said Rogers, adding that she would come home from college to run it.

“It was one of my favorite things,” she said. “I love this one because people are lined up on the sidewalk all the way. The kids learn to cheer each other on as they pass. It’s all about the comradery of running.”

Some club alumni come back to run and encourage younger siblings, which is “fun to watch,” she said.

Bowman said he’s always been “athletic,” and he sees the running club as an opportunity to help the children learn about healthy activities.

“That’s a really big focus. We just want to make this a better place for everybody and show them that healthy choices can be fun.”

NIC BOWMAN, left, leads Cascade students in a warm-up as they train for the Strawberry Festival Mile race.
FIFTH-GRADER Eli Duquette looks like he has energy left as he and fourth-grader Daniella Sanchez-Guzman, left, lead the pack in a practice run.
SARA ROGERS, left, points Damion Bledsoe to the finish line in last year’s race.
TERRI KNAUP, left, an eighth-grade volunteer from Seven Oak Middle School, punches a lap card for fourth-grader Alicia Cunningham during a workout at Cascade.
CASCADE runners, wearing mostly white T shirts, dominate the starting line at the beginning of last year’s mile race.