Marathon volunteers needed or race is off

Marathon volunteers needed or race is off

CHAMPAIGN – The first-ever Illinois Marathon won't make it to the starting line if more volunteers don't step forward.

Champaign police say they've told event organizers that they will pull special-event permits necessary to hold the April 11 marathon if organizers don't come up with more traffic-control volunteers at 225 intersections along the marathon route.

Local officials have set an April 1 deadline – two weeks away – for event organizer Casmar Events of Fargo, N.D., to provide assurances that they have the volunteer network in place. Volunteers are needed to protect the 7,600 runners who have signed up for the event, which also includes a half marathon, a 5K and a marathon relay.

"We're in a little bit of a desperation mode," said Mark Knutson, executive director of Casmar Events. "Quite honestly, we need another 150 (volunteers) to be safe."

Currently, there are about 150 traffic volunteers, but Knutson said he needs at least 250 and would like to have 350 to assure runner safety. Extras are also needed because not all volunteers can stay for the entire six or seven hours the event will last, he said.

"Volunteers make sure runners stay on course and make sure runners are protected from traffic," he said. "It's a great opportunity from a volunteer standpoint in that it puts you right on the course and in the middle of the race."

Champaign police Lt. Jon Swenson said city officials are committed to the event and have spent considerable time helping put together a traffic plan. But if there aren't enough volunteers to hold a safe event, then participants deserve enough lead time to cancel travel plans and reservations, he said.

"There's people coming from all over the continental United States and four foreign countries, and it's not something you can cancel on a moment's notice," Swenson said. "We indicated our concerns to them about the urgency to get their volunteers secured so we know we're prepared to move forward with the event."

The decision to set a deadline was made last Friday in consultation with Police Chief R.T. Finney and City Manager Steve Carter, Swenson said.

Swenson said local police will cover about 70 high-volume intersections along the marathon route through Champaign and Urbana. But there are 241 other intersections that need volunteers to make sure cars don't interfere with the race and put runners in jeopardy.

Of those 241 intersections, 16 have low enough traffic volume that they could probably left unstaffed, he said, but the other 225 will need volunteers.

Knutson said that if the Illinois Marathon can't get the needed volunteers, refunds would be made to entrants.

The marathon would be a tremendous boost to Champaign-Urbana's economy and local residents should help out, said Lucas Thurman, executive director of the Champaign County Sports Commission, which works to attract and retain local sporting events.

"This is an event that I think will put our community on the map for sporting events," Thurman said. "We only see this event growing, and it's something this community should embrace and get behind. And it's a unique opportunity for volunteers that they will enjoy."

The marathon will attract thousands of out-of-town residents, benefiting local motels, restaurants and retailers, he said.

To volunteer

The Illinois Marathon, scheduled for April 11, needs at least 100 more traffic-control volunteers over the next two weeks, or city officials say they will cancel the event by withdrawing special-event permits.

Volunteers can sign up by clicking on the "volunteers" tab at www.illinoismarathon.com, or they can call volunteer coordinator Mary Anderson at 369-2308 between 5 and 9 p.m. or Bonnie McElwee at 344-4160.

Event organizer Mark Knutson said that, to encourage more volunteers, the marathon will pay $18 to not-for-profit organizations for each volunteer they provide who agrees to work a six-hour shift.

Volunteers would need to be in place by 7:30 a.m., a half-hour before the planned start of the 8 a.m. race.

A video tour of the marathon route is available at The News-Gazette Web site at http://tinyurl.com/cct3m4.