It isn’t called a “Hill of a Race” for nothing. According to Harrall Harbin, Ada’s Fireball Classic race coordinator, the 10 kilometer footrace held July 4th is considered by those in the know as the most challenging in Oklahoma.
“Those in the know” include anyone who has ever run it. But far from being a turnoff, Harbin says more and more runners are signing up each year to take on the challenge of participating in it or its five kilometer sister race.
“Our 10K race is touted as the toughest 10K course in Oklahoma,” Harbin said. “When we took over in 1992 we had a total of 137 racers. Two years ago we had 268.” Last year that number jumped to 361 and this year’s event tallied 444 participants in both races, a 224 percent increase over the first race Harbin’s group, Ada Sunrise Rotary Club, took over.
Harbin said runners come from all over Oklahoma as well as neighboring states like Louisiana, Texas and Kansas to some as far away as Illinois. “Some have relatives here and call to make sure when the race is being run so they can plan to participate. But we also have runners who drive in from surrounding states the day of the race,” he said.
“Some have raced with us since 1992. It’s fun to get emails from participants complimenting us on how well the race is coordinated.”
The 5K race covers two loops within the confines of Wintersmith Park. The 10K starts in the park, goes out onto Cradduck Road, turn left onto Ahloso Rd., then left on CR 3580/Monte Visa toward what one racer calls “Mt. Ada.” After scaling that height, the route winds around to 18th St. and back into the park to the finish line. Both courses are USA Track & Field certified.
Though not a runner himself, Harbin is clearly excited about what the annual event means to Ada. Ninety percent of proceeds go to Back to School Basics, a program to help disadvantaged youth attending local schools with purchasing school supplies, backpacks and shoes. Ten percent goes to other community projects sponsored by Ada Sunrise Rotary.
“In 1992 we raised $825 for Back to School Basics. This year we raised $9,000 that went to help kids not just in Ada but in all of Pontotoc County,” he said. “That’s the first reason I love helping in this effort.”
Harbin said another reason can be summed up in what a cancer victim told him who had just completed her last treatment in October of last year. “She told me she had two goals. One was to run the Fireball Classic 5K and the other was to jump out of an airplane. That brought a tear to my eye. As it turned out, she won her age group (in the 5K).”
Harbin said the race started in 1968 when Ada High’s track coach asked Ralph “Fireball” Evans to come up with a race to help keep his track team in shape during the summer. In 1969 the Proud Young Americans for Truth (PYAT) organization took it over.
Sunrise Rotary Club took the reins in 1992. “Steve Kessinger was the one who encouraged our Rotary Club’s participation and was our race director for several years. I learned a lot from him. He was a good teacher. This is my 13th year as race director,” he said.
Harbin said club members are already planning next year’s event and are looking for businesses to sponsor water tables. “We’ve already talked with a couple of businesses that want to participate, but will need more,” Harbin said. “It’s a great way for local companies to advertise.”
Organizations wanting to help sponsor may phone (580)332-5816 or 436-0894.
A new wrinkle this year was registering on-line. Another possibility Harbin and the club are working on is offsite parking and busses to carry runners back and forth from their vehicles and the park.
“I don’t think Ada residents know what we have here. If you’ve never been to a race you’re really missing something!” he said.