WHEELING - For 37 years, the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic has not only brought some of the best road runners to Wheeling, but created an atmosphere of community pride and togetherness.
The success of the Memorial Day weekend staple is certainly rooted in the quality of competitors. But more than that, it's due to citizens from different walks of life coming together to to make the event go off seamlessly.
The three men enshrined into the event's Hall of Fame on Saturday afternoon - Frank Kuca Jr., J.T. Thomas and Richard Hall - reflect the different facets that come together to make the race one of the most recognized in the nation.
Photo by Scott McCloskey
The late Frank Kuca Jr. was honored Saturday as one of three inductees into the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic Hall of Fame. Accepting the award in his honor are members of his family, front row from left, Diane Criswell, Cheryl Snyder, Anna Kloss, Jase Rogers, Jill Spangler, Mary Ellen DiCocco, Heather Markonich, Alivia Markonich, Hannah Rogers and Mason Markonich. Middle row, from left, are Ogden race Director R. “Scat” Scatterday, Gennie Kuca, Tina DiCocco, Jim Kloss, Jayme Rogers, Mike Kuca, Robb Criswell, Justin Snyder, Courtney Criswell, John Snyder and Kayla Criswell. Back row, from left, are Dave Kloss, Jack DiCocco, Jason Rogers, Kevin Kuca, Kyle Kuca and Frank D. Kuca. View additional photos at cu.news-register.net.
All three, Hall and Kuca Jr. posthumously, were officially enshrined during the awards portion of the postrace luncheon at Heritage Port.
Frank Kuca Jr.
Kuca died May 3 after a two-year battle with brain cancer. He was a familiar face for more than 30 years in downtown Wheeling.
In fact, before he had to stop competing because of his illness, he finished all but one event, making him an ''honorary'' Ironman.
''He was very excited,'' Kuca's widow, Gennie, said when her husband learned he was going to be honored. ''It was always a big event for him.''
Many members of the Kuca family were on hand to honor the man who served 23 years with the Wheeling Police Department and 14 years as a court security officer for the U.S. Marshals.
Donned in "Team Kuca" shirts, members of Kuca's family representing several generations gathered Saturday to continue his legacy of running the Ogden Half Marathon.
"Uncle Frank ran 36 years of the Ogden races," Jayme Kloss Rogers, Kuca's niece, said. "We know he's here with us and he's going to lead us through (Saturday). We wanted to do this in memory of him."
Family members described Kuca him as "an extremely dedicated runner" who would get up at 4 a.m. to do practice runs from Warwood to Glen Dale even if it was 10 degrees outside.
The only thing he loved more than running, his niece Jill Kloss Spangler said, was his family.
"Family was very important to him," Spangler said. "So we are all here to support him."
It's been a Hall of Fame year for J.T. Thomas and his family.
Not only has Thomas joined the Ogden race's Hall of Fame, but his dad, the late Jim Thomas, will enter the OVAC Hall of Fame in August for his work as a high school football coach.
''I'm very humbled by this, I really am,'' Thomas said. ''I certainly didn't do this alone. Several staff therapists have volunteered through the years."
Starting in 1999, Thomas, a physical therapist at Wheeling Hospital, headed up the massage tent located past the finish line.
''We got nothing but good compliments,'' Thomas recalled. ''It was a very small effort on our part. People would come in barely walking and then after massages they could walk out.
''It was really an exciting time for us. We had an opportunity to meet a lot of people and offer our services. It wasn't all for naught. They'd come to see you and they'd remember you.''
Richard Hall ... Bloomingdale, Ohio.
That line was a familiar one when folks looked at results of area road races during the past two decades or so.
''He was a very good runner in his age group,'' veteran racer and Ogden Ironman Steve Habursky said.
So much so that race organizers thought his accomplishments merited induction.
He competed up until his mid 60s.