For the last time, Steve Case handed out T-shirts and water to weary, sweaty little bodies as they crossed the finish line at Joe Albi Stadium.
Case has been volunteering at America’s Kids Run — or Junior Bloomsday as it was formerly known — for 18 of the event’s 25 years in existence.
Saturday marked the last time the race will be held at the north Spokane sports complex, as organizers relocate and reorganize the event, which will be held each May at Fairchild Air Force Base instead.
“My boy was 5 when we started doing this,” Case said. “It’s really an amazing family event for our kids.”
On Saturday 1,200 children from ages 5 through middle school ran courses of various lengths depending on their age, all for a T-shirt, a high-five at the finish line, and a senses of satisfaction.
“It’s a great feeling,” said 11-year-old Emily Kaiser, who finished the race along with friends Amanda Lance and Shannon Andrews, also 11.
“It’s our time to bond and have fun, and do a sport that keeps us active,” added Lance.
Younger children were so excited to hit the pavement, they began running before they even hit the starting line.
The last 5-year old to complete the course was accompanied by race organizer Dan Petek, who in an e-mail said the final race is a “celebration of accomplishment.”
“The local kids run will continue under a different name, venue and moniker next year at Fairchild Air Force Base,” Petek wrote. “Please help us make this week a true celebration of accomplishment.”
The race was founded in 1985, by fellow organizer Mike Erwert. Entry was free the first race, which was held at Spokane Falls Community College. That year there were 3,000 entries for Junior Bloomsday, meant to provide kids with a chance to get in on the Lilac Bloomsday spirit, synonymous with spring in Spokane.
The following year, race organizers offered an incentive for schools to compete, by offering a new Apple IIE computer to the school with the largest turnout. About 10,700 showed up to run.
The following year the race was moved to Joe Albi, where it has been since. After 2000 the name was changed to America’s Kids Run, at the request of the Lilac Bloomsday Association which had allowed the event use of the Bloomsday moniker. Slowly, the number of participants began to dwindle, volunteers said.
In 2001, the Pentagon contacted Spokane’s event organizers and asked them to develop a template to stage kids’ run on U.S. military installations on Armed Forces Weekend, the third week in May each year. Today, America’s Armed Forces Kids Runs are held on 151 military bases worldwide.
Next year, Spokane’s event will join those ranks as it moves to Fairchild. Event organizers say it will be open to civilians.
But for some families, making the trek out to the base just west of Airway Heights may make the event unattainable.
“I’m really bummed,” said Lisa Lee, who had 9 of her 12 children participating in Saturday’s run. Lee’s oldest child, who is now 19, participated when she was 5 or 6 years old. Several of her children who are too old to run now volunteer.
“It’s just been so convenient to have it here at Joe Albi,” Lee said. “Albi is a tradition in Spokane and I love it that families can come and hang out here all day.
“This has been very much a stable Spokane community event for so long,” Lee said. “This is very much a true family event for us.”