BILL RODGERS DISCUSSES ASHLAND'S
PLACE IN DISTANCE RUNNING HISTORY
Bill Rodgers and ARA Chairman Steve Greenberg pose with the Bill Rodgers Trophy, to be engraved annually with the names of male and female half-marathon winners and displayed publicly in Ashland.
'Isn't there a place like Ashland for football? It's like (James) Naismith in basketball. Hockey, baseball, probably all the sports, have that special place where they all started. Ashland's like that for running.'
SPECIAL REPORT/ By Stephen Flynn, Ashland Half Marathon Media Office
Distance running legend Bill Rodgers already had his reasons when he answered yes this summer to joining the Ashland Half-Marathon & 5K.
Rodgers, who won both the Boston and New York marathons four times each, is considered a historian of road racing and already understood the significance of Marathon Park and Ashland's place in racing history.
"Ashland's place in the sport's history had been put to the back of people's mind after the marathon starting line was moved back to Hopkinton to match the Olympic distance," he said, "at least until Tom Derderian's great book, 'Boston Marathon: The First Century of the World's Premier Running Event', gave an inside look at (Ashland's) history."
Rodgers said he's pleased that proceeds from Sunday's race are going to be used to rehabilitate Marathon Park and, some day, fund a museum dedicated to distance running. He has likened the town's spot in sports history to Hall of Fame hometowns such as Springfield for basketball and Cooperstown, N.Y., in baseball.
"Isn't there a place like Ashland for
football?" Rodgers asked in a Boston Herald article, before quickly answer
answering his own question, "It's like
(James) Naismith in basketball."
"Hockey, baseball, probably all the sports, have that special place where they all started," he said. "Ashland's like that for running. That's something great for the community to draw on."
Rodgers easily ties the marathon's history to the current popularity of running.
"There are so many historical figures tied to the marathon and running and because of them the sport is getting huge," he said. "It's certainly not getting any smaller.
"And anything's good that gives the younger generation a chance to learn about someone like Johnny Kelly, for instance, both the younger and the elder, or Roberta Gibb, the marathon's first woman," he continued, mentioning the woman who will fire the starting gun in Ashland Sunday morning, "Hey, maybe even about an old-timer like me!"
Rodgers travels the country now, running some races, making appearance at others and also
attends lot of running-themed events. He's familiar with the importance of community support and the ability of public-private partnerships to get
accomplish necessary goals.
"A town must be willing to change things," he said. "And get behind an idea like this one and listen to folks like (Ashland Redevelopment Authority Chairman) Steve Greenberg, who have the town's best interests in mind.
"It's like Hopkinton. It's been able, over time, to build community resources through its relationship with the BAA, he said. "It took years, but it has increased Hopkinton's visibility, quality of life and it puts the community in a postive light."
"Running is a good fundraising sport and I can see this beginning for Ashland as well."
Labeling Ashland's current position as the half-marathon ramps up as "kind of cool," he said, "Ashland could be big, but you have to build support gradually. It's not just for me to pump it up. That's got to be a community effort."
Rodgers also had a warning about complacency, "There's lots of competition though, thousands of races, especially around New England," he said.
"The New York City Marathon started small, just 100 runners," Rodgers concluded. "And now Ashland has a chance to makes its contribution to history."