By D.E. Wheeler
Keeping runners satisfied has helped the Gum Tree 10K become recognized among road races throughout the South and kept it by far the largest event of its kind in Mississippi.
And to Gum Tree race director Johnny Dye, a reason for the event’s good reputation and record of consistency over the years is the work of the many volunteers.
“An event this size couldn’t be put on without volunteers, and we’ve always had great support from our volunteers,” said Dye, who is overseeing his 10th Gum Tree.
“One of the things that amazes me are the repeaters, the volunteers that work year after year,” Dye said. “Some have been doing this longer than I have, and some have maybe been serving as long as the race has been taking place.”
Being the biggest race in Mississippi, the Gum Tree probably has the most volunteers as well. Dye feels that the biggest number of volunteers, and perhaps the most important group of volunteers, are the people who control traffic at the various intersections along the course.
“By and large, as course security goes, the people I’ve talked with say the Gum Tree is the most secure course they’ve run on,” Dye said.
Dye estimates that 100 to 150 people man the various intersections along the 6.2 miles of the Gum Tree. That includes personnel from the Tupelo Police Department, the Mississippi National Guard and employees of the Bank of Mississippi.
Other volunteer groups that have between 30-60 people each include medical personnel, the three water stations on the course, finish line personnel, and post-race awards and refreshment areas. The finish line area might be the most intricately run area of the race, with 55-60 people with various responsibilities.
The Tupelo Public Works Department is also key to the volunteer effort, helping put up banners at the finish line and sweeping the street prior to the race. The Gum Tree is set for May 11 with an 8:30 a.m. starting time.
Gum Tree registration notes: Dye reports that a few noteworthy entry forms have already been received.
Women’s entries include Angela Nelson from Keller, Texas in the women’s open with a 10K time of 35 minutes, 24 seconds, and a recent 5-mile time of 28:21. Catherine Lempesis of Columbia, S.C., and Vicki Crisp of Nashville (fourth last year) will challenge in the competitive Masters division, while defending Grand Masters champion Mary Ann Wehrum will be back.
Some familiar men’s names say they will be here, including 1982-83 overall champion Desmond O’Connor of New Orleans to compete for the Masters title. John Tuttle of Douglasville, Ga., will be back to improve on his third-place finish from last year, and Tom Dooley of Toccoa, Ga., will be back to defend his Grand Masters title.
Dye reports that Dooley recently ran a 10K time under the current Grand Masters course record.