Not an Average Starter’s Pistol

WHEELING – To kick off today’s Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic, Race Director R. “Scat” Scatterday decided to bring in something that packs a bit more of a punch than your traditional starter’s pistol.

And with this year marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the timing hardly could be more appropriate – the 35th annual running of the Ohio Valley’s premier distance race will begin with a mighty blast from a replica cannon, identical to those used during the “War Between the States.” Use of the cannon during this weekend’s events is courtesy of Richard Fonner of New Martinsville, a member of the 19th Ohio Light Artillery reenactment group and a student in Scatterday’s hydraulics class at Belmont Technical College.

Blasts from the cannon could be heard throughout the downtown Friday night following the playing of “Taps” during the ceremony that closed the Classic’s opening event, the annual Veterans Torch Relay.

According to Scatterday, who served in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War, the cannon added a new layer of ambiance to the event, a tribute to American veterans of all wars, past and present. The effect – replicating some of the sights, sounds and smells of combat – is part of what made the tribute so emotional.

“What I wanted to do was create a direct, personal reaction with the military veterans,” said Scatterday, “and attempt to make the public experience what we military had lived with.”

Although the cannon was moved to the roof of the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Center to avoid deafening race participants and spectators, Fonner – clad in full Civil War regalia – attracted a small crowd of passers-by at Heritage Port while firing a few test shots Friday afternoon prior to the event.

One of those shots was fired by a member of Wheeling’s finest – Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball, also in charge of course safety for today’s event – who eagerly accepted Fonner’s offer to let him do the honors.

An avid reenactor, Fonner demonstrated with his unit during last year’s All-American Days Festival in Bellaire and is a regular sight outside Independence Hall in downtown Wheeling during the annual West Virginia Day celebrations there.