Franklin runners celebrate 35 years from CPS Cancer Run to Franklin Classic
Rain or shine, Labor Day morning in Franklin means runners filling the streets to race for a cause while striving for the prestige of completing one of the regions most respected road races.
With 35 years under their belt, organizers of the Franklin Classic say this event is heading to the next level.
For residents that means lots of memories, money for a worthy cause and a reason to get out of bed early on the day Americans have reserved for rest from labor.
Originally called the CPS Cancer Run, the race’s beginning is traced back to the enthusiasm of a couple of local runners, a community minded businessman and scores of volunteers.
Bob Stiljes, “the father of the run,” was an executive with CPS, the area’s largest employer in 1978. He recalled the day Nashville’s promoter Tandy Rice, longtime Franklin pharmacist Forrest Parmley and “a couple other Franklin running enthusiasts” dropped by his office to make him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“The HR guy also got involved and pressed me,” Stiljes said. “We did [get involved], and we underwrote it. It certainly did grow and it endured. I’m happy to say that.”
Dave Ausbrooks, Elwin Taylor, Steve Whorley, Nancy Simpkins, running enthusiast Charlie West, as well as Dr. Frank Gluck and the beloved Dr. Craig Farrell joined the team. They decided the run would benefit cancer awareness – a subject near and dear to Rice since it caused the death of his sister.
During those first years, the road race was a 10K event that started at Five-Points and eventually ended on East Main Street near St. Philip’s Catholic Church, intentionally avoiding the heart of downtown.
“We did our first registration in Sears—now City Hall,” said Simpkins, a retired Williamson County Schools principal who worked with the American Cancer Society, the beneficiary of the race.
Registration eventually moved to Williamson County-owned Harpeth National Bank, which is now First Tennessee Bank.
“The funny part—many of us were not runners. We weren’t even knowledgeable about running,” she said. May was the initial month set for the run until CPS pushed to move it to Labor Day so more employees could volunteer.
Organizers then moved the run to Labor Day and changed the name to The Franklin Classic. With 400-500 runners, the first race was successful right out of the gate, Simpkins said. It was so successful, “We didn’t have a place to put the registration money, and we didn’t know what to do with it. When it started piling up, we started stuffing it anywhere we could find. Some put it in their pockets,” she quipped.
The overall winner of the first race was Ed Leddy, an Irish immigrant who recently landed in Franklin. The 5K was soon added to appeal to more runners. The spirit and energy of the volunteers is what makes this race special. Ausbrooks recalled Whorley recruiting his Franklin Junior High students.
“They helped hand out water, direct runners through turns and provide enthusiasm and encouragement,” the former CPS and Williamson Medical Center human resource executive said. Ausbrooks still lives in Franklin and practices law.
Franklin Junior High School alumni Brandy Blanton recalls the former FSSD Schools Superintendent Don Brown recruiting she and her teenage friends to hand out water on the course in Monticello subdivision off Hillsboro Road in the early 1980s.
“Mr. Brown told us he needed us to ride on this trailer out to Monticello and set up tables for the water station,” Blanton recalls of an event, the beginning of which, preceded the construction of the Mack Hatcher Memorial Parkway. Students from area schools still provide the same services along the race routes.
“Franklin was quite different in those days,” said Bill Clark, a CPS employee on the race committee from 1986 to 1996.
Well before graphic designers and the advent of the Mac computer, there was the coveted t-shirt design contest that began with a community-wide competition. The inaugural CPS Run T-shirt showcased an image of “Chip,” the statue of the Confederate soldier, now Franklin’s icon. The Public Square was not even close to the popular historic destination it is today. Rather it was a landmark used to direct people attending court in the county seat of Tennessee’s wealthiest state.
Regarding the t-shirt contest, it became as much of a symbol of competition as the runner’s race times. CPS executives managed to incorporate their own corporate mission into the mission of this grassroots community fundraiser. Then one of America’s largest manufacturers of gift-wrapping, the Columbia Avenue-based company and largest employer in the area kept their designers busy trying to outdo one another.
This spirited competition became a highly anticipated part of the race program.
All local, all the time
For many years, the run “was a small, locally run, locally organized race,” Clark said. “We did the scoring and timing ourselves—Nashville Striders would come out and help us.”
Electronic timers and chips could only be imagined.
Like automobile and horse racing, time was calculated with a timing clock at the finish line provided by End of the Line and hand-scored by volunteers. Since that first race in 1978, WAKM AM Radio 950’s Tom Lawrence has been providing coverage, noting the changes one year at a time.
“When CPS sponsored it, it was a company event,” Lawrence said this week. “Everyone participated.”
In the early 1990s, Williamson Medical Center joined CPS in sponsoring the race. Longtime Williamson Medical Center employee Wayne Batts was introduced to the run in 1983 while he was working with Lawrence at WAKM. In 1993, he became a WMC volunteer for the race for the next 20 years. Batts, of Fairview, learned what it was like to be a “worker bee” at the event.
“It was a much smaller operation. Everyone usually had more than one role.”
Batts, whose career in radio, cable television and public relations spans more than 25 years currently works as a senior support specialist in WMC’s Information Technology Department.
He also became more familiar with the term potable water. One of his primary roles was providing water to runners.
Until prefilled commercial water jugs were provided, dedicated plastic garbage cans lined with clean liners were filled with Franklin’s city water for the hundreds of cups needed to hydrate runners; a process that began at 4 a.m day of race, Batts recalled.
“The strength of the race was the continuity of the people involved,” Batts stressed.
The volunteer list, he said, was long and close knit.
CPS employees, WMC employees, community members, the City of Franklin, Franklin Police and Williamson County Sheriff’s Departments all made the difference. “Their dedication helped to make it better each year.”
Race attracts future resident
David John, originally of Memphis, turns down Labor Day invitations to go out of town.
This 14-year resident of Fieldstone Farms, and father of two, has been cajoling his family to get up with him on Labor Day for well over a decade. John’s introduction to the race was his instant attraction to Franklin, a town he believed would one day be a great place to live and raise a family.
John, 58, has been running for 44 years. By day he conducts ergonomic evaluations for companies, but his outlet for exercise has always been running, he said. The Franklin Classic became his Labor Day ritual more nearly three decades ago.
“My first race was in ’85 to ’86. Back then it was down by the old library.“ said John, then a Nashville resident.
A glimpse of the city’s history and rural beauty had an immediate impact.
“I said I really love Franklin. I thought that day that I would really love to live here someday.”
Shortly thereafter, he married and along with his wife Lori, moved to Franklin in the late 1980s. The couple plans to participate with their adult daughter and son at this year’s race. John, who was captain of his high school track and cross-country teams at Christian Brothers, has run in many regional 5K races, but he is emphatic about this race.
“The Classic is definitely the best one I have ever run in,” he insisted, adding that he includes the Music City Marathon in that list.
“It’s just such a good feeling when you come up that hill on Main Street and you see the crowd. The streets are all lined with people and its still kind of quiet that early in the morning. Then you hear the crowd cheering you on. That last stretch is just the best—the setting with all the old churches coming into downtown. I can’t imagine a better finish to any run.”
In 35 years there have been many changes, many new runners and walkers, many new volunteers, but even the threat of rain doesn’t seem to slow the steady growth of this event.
The Herald congratulates Mercy Community Healthcare on continuing a Franklin tradition and the volunteers for committing their day off for 35 years.
The Herald extends best wishes to each participant and a heartfelt wish for a cool, cloudy morning —and no rain.
Pam Horne, Managing Editor, contributed to this story.
Posted on: 8/28/2013