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Firecracker Mile celebrates 40th year with Liberty Park run


One of Sedalia’s holiday traditions reached a milestone on Independence Day at Liberty Park.

The Firecracker Mile, hosted annually on the Fourth of July, completed its 40th race Sunday. After running more than 30 years at the Missouri State Fairgrounds, Liberty Park provided shade to about 100 entries and spectators in its debut as host course.

Jeff Mittelhauser, who served as race director for 36 years, said the event has lasted because it provides a fast start to a family holiday and appeals to full-time and casual runners alike.

“Over the years, the emphasis has been offering something for everyone,” Mittelhauser said. “A mile sounds like a goal everyone can reach.”

Samuel Wilhelm, 18, led 42 finishers in the open division to win in a time of 4 minutes, 44.75 seconds. Drew Belardo (4:48.03), George Price (4:49.51), Cooper Palmer (5:02.29) and Cooper Mittelhauser (5:15.34) rounded out the top five.

In the novice division, Treasure Green, 41, bested the field in 7:34.47. She was followed by Sarah Jones (7:40.41), Rylee Donaldson (7:44.35), Sarah Donaldson (7:54.47) and John Ezell (8:16.99).

Elliott Clark, 10, won the 14-and-under race in 6:37. He finished ahead of Nik Weibert (6:42) , Keegan Clark (5:61), Lason Thompson (6:53) and Reese Green (7:00) made up the top five.

Dan Bridges, in his first year as race director, joined his family for the ninth-straight year at the event. He crossed the finish line in 6:15.83.

“For me, it’s a family tradition,” Bridges said.

Liberty Park served as a pleasant host course, he added, and the Firecracker Mile may return for future races.

“There’s shade, there’s places for the kids to hang out,” Bridges said. “If the parks will have us, we would love to continue having it here.”

Mittelhauser, who has helped with every installment of the Firecracker Mile, said Bridges stepped up for the Sedalia Runner’s Club at the right time. As the event approached 40 years, he had wondered if the race was already over the hill.

“I was very relieved that someone with Dan’s interest and abilities was willing to take over,” Mittelhauser said. “We were really on the verge of letting the club quietly jog into the sunset. Dan raised his hand and he’s doing it, thankfully.”

The Firecracker Mile began in 1982, when Mark Thomas and Bob Buehn and Damon Hireoynymous were directors of the Sedalia Runner’s Club, managing six or seven events each year. Inspired by better-known, short-distance races such as the Broadway Mile in New York, the first Firecracker Mile was a noon start and 1 1/2 miles in distance.

“We thought, ‘Who is going to turn out for a mile?’” Mittelhauser said.

Sedalia’s Mark Montgomery was first among 122 finishers at the inaugural Firecracker Mile. Ron Clark won the second race in 4:23 and Jeff Mittelhauser claimed the third installment.

Claiming multiple second-place finishes while training for more serious events, Mittelhauser often had mixed feelings about running the Firecracker Mile.

“It seemed like I was the perennial loser,” Mittelhauser said. “I got second for so many years.”

While official results are not fully compiled, Mittelhauser said Kent Lang has more top-five finishes than any other runner, perhaps more than double than the next person. The Firecracker Mile included a novice category by the mid-80s, and added children’s races in 1990, 1995 and 1998 — in step with Mittelhauser’s oldest child.

Lasting long enough to include generations of runners, Mittelhauser said he is proud of the humble legacy the Firecracker Mile has earned. He credits its longevity to Sedalia’s devotion.

“Existing for 40 years, that’s tough,” Mittelhauser said. “Races in Sedalia have come and gone. Some have lasted a long long time and the others have gone by the wayside. The Firecracker Mile has always been a worthwhile event and I think it comes back to local participation.”

Alex Agueros can be reached at sports@sedaliademocrat.com or on Twitter @abagueros2.