McCormick run doesn't skip beat

Matt Johnson runs about a half dozen road races a year.

But there’s one particular race that has a special meaning for the North Gwinnett teacher. Fifteen years ago Johnson helped start the Dennis McCormick Road Race, a fundraiser for the Collins Hill cross country program.

The 15th anniversary of the race is today and Johnson is expecting to make his usual trek down Taylor Road and through the Richland neighborhood course.

Road Race

What: Dennis McCormick Road Race

When: Today, 7:30 a.m.

Where: Collins Hill High School

Cost: $20

“The course is so hilly. It’s brutal as I get older,” Johnson said with a laugh. “As far as 5Ks go, I don’t have much left. I’m just going to gut it out. This will probably be my slowest 5K time.”

Johnson threw out the idea to have a road race as a fundraiser for the team back in 1997. From there the idea caught steam. Parents suggested it be named after McCormick, a youth running coach who died from cancer.

Another parent designed the T-shirt, while others promoted the race and gained sponsors.

“We were nervous about it. We thought if you’re going to do a fundraiser, it would be cool to tie it in with your sport,” Johnson said. “People give me credit, but I just threw it out there and have just been around great people.”

Johnson was hoping for at least 100 participants, not including Collins Hill runners, the first year. The inaugural Dennis McCormick Race had nearly 400 participants. Johnson stepped down as Collins Hill’s cross country coach after the 2000 season, but the race has stayed strong. Eagles coaches Andrew Hudson and Richard Ramsey along with strong support from parent volunteers have kept the race going strong. The event typically draws about 500 participants and is still the major fundraiser for the cross country and track and field programs. It’s also an early indicator of the Eagles’ top runners for the season.

“It’s been our primary fundraiser for the entire existence,” Hudson said. “We have to raise money and this was a great idea by Matt and the board.”

Johnson, a 1989 Parkview grad, has run the race every year, which includes a 5 a.m. run in 2000 when he was too excited to wait for the 7 a.m. start. As the years have passed, he has less and less of a connection with many of the parents and students at the race.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people don’t know who I am,” Johnson said. “But there’s always one or two parents or runners that I coached that are there. It’s really fun to catch up with them and see how they’re doing after college.”

Today’s race will begin at 7:30 a.m. in front of Collins Hill High School on Taylor Road. Race day registration costs $20 and participants will receive a T-shirt. Prizes will be awarded in the top three in each age division.

“I hope 15 or 20 years from now we can say it’s still going 30 years strong,” Johnson said.