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Brentwood Firecracker 5K celebrating its 30th edition |

Brentwood Firecracker 5K celebrating its 30th edition

Kurt Shaw
| Wednesday, June 12, 2013 9:00 p.m
randy jarosz | for the south hills record
Leah Ahlin
randy jarosz | for the south hills record
Jeff Weiss

The Brentwood Firecracker 5K Run is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year with two new co-race directors.

Kira Foley and Maureen Cunningham, both Brentwood Borough residents, have stepped in for Carol Wirth, who served as race director in 2012.

“Kira and I have stepped up to continue this great event that has been a tradition for 30 years,” Cunningham said.

“We are excited for the 30th year and will have a special commemorative item for the racers,” Wirth said.

The local road race, which begins and ends at Brentwood Towne Square, is held annually on July 4 at 9 a.m.

The race course follows 3.1 miles of Brownsville Road on the Brentwood holiday parade route.

There were a record-breaking 1,950 registrants in last year’s contest, including more than 500 race-day registrants. The previous record for registered participants was 1,670 set in 2011.

Entry forms are available at the Brentwood Library, which is located at 3501 Brownsville Road, or online (new this year) at Online registration closes June 22.

“This year’s race is capped at 2,000 spots, so we encourage everyone to sign up early,” Foley said. “If spaces are still available, registrations will be accepted at packet pickup on June 29 and June 30 at the library.”

The registration fee is $15 until June 30, and $20 on the day of the race. The fee for three members of one family is $40, and $12 for each additional family member.

Race packets will be available to be picked up at the Brentwood Library on June 29 and 30.

Trophies and cash awards will be presented to the top three males and females overall, and to the top male and female masters (40-plus) finishers. Trophies also will be given to the first Brentwood male and female runners, and the top three age division finishers.

A $500 grand prize will be awarded in a random drawing; there also will be music, refreshments and door prizes.


The Firecracker 5K was the dream of two men — the late Brentwood Mayor Jim Joyce and Brentwood running enthusiast Jim Rohm, an annual race participant.

The race director for several years was another Brentwood running enthusiast, the late Janice Boyko.

Wirth filled in as race director last year, and Brentwood Mayor Ken Lockhart remains the race chairman.

Foley and Cunningham both served on the race planning committee last year.

Planning committee members this year are Mary Bailey, Jeanne Berk, Oscar Jernstrom, Nancy Ligette, Sue Lockhart, Mary Lou Nees and Rich Wright.

“Actually, Maureen and I were both new to the 5K committee last year,” Foley said. “When we were made aware of the vacancy, we both were more than willing to help keep the tradition continuing.

“Mayor Lockhart is the chair of the race and does a lot of the work to continue the success of this event. The committee is amazing; each and every person is vital to the success of this event.”

The 5K race annually kicks off Brentwood’s Fourth of July festivities.

Weiss three-peats; Ahlin wins first

Jeff Weiss has become a familiar name at the Brentwood Firecracker 5K Run.

Weiss won the race for a third consecutive year in 2012, posting a 15:12 time at last year’s brutally hot and humid event.

Meanwhile, Leah Ahlin, competing in the race for the first time, took first place among female runners with a 17:43 effort.

“I heard it was always a very competitive and fun race,” said Ahlin following last year’s event. “I thought the course was challenging with the rolling hills and heat, but a lot of fun.

“The turnout of participants and spectators was awesome.”

Winning the Brentwood race was not the ultimate goal for Ahlin.

“Not really,” she said. “I always go into a race with the thought to give myself an opportunity to try to win; however, I just wanted to use this 5K as a gauge of my current fitness level.

“I (had) heard that it is competitive so my plan was to keep the front pack within striking distance.”

Weiss, who finished first with a 14:57 time in 2011 and a 14:51 time in 2010, defeated runner-up Cesar Gatete by a five-second margin last summer.

“He’s really good,” Wirth said about Weiss. “(Last) year, the conditions were much more difficult. The heat and humidity were so much worse for the runners.

“We tried to have enough water stops along with way. We added one water stop. We had an awful lot of volunteers on race day. We really did need the extra volunteers; we had more people in the race.”

Weiss and Gatete, who crossed the finish line in 15:17, finished well ahead of the rest of the field. Ryan Sheehan was the only other participant able to break the 16-minute mark.

Sheehan, a former Brentwood Firecracker titlist, generated a time of 15:52 to secure third place.

Chris Nocera and Dan Mazzocco, who like Sheehan is a former long-distance running standout at Baldwin High School, ended up fourth and fifth overall.

Ahlin crossed the finish line eight seconds faster than her nearest competitor, Heather Cleary, who finished in 17:51 to narrowly defeat Roberta Croner (17:57).

Meghan Ecker and Cheryl Collins-Gaton rounded out the women’s top five with 18:21 and 18:29 times.

“You plan for so long, then it’s over so fast,” Wirth said.

Eric Shafer, like Weiss, earned a third consecutive championship at the holiday event by finishing first among the men’s master runners in 17:36.

Lisa Lucas earned first place among the women’s masters division runners thanks to her 19:10 performance.

Volunteers vital for race success

Wirth was overwhelmed last year by the support provided by the planning committee and community at large.

“The volunteers were great, absolutely great. I’d say we had about 50 volunteers on race day,” Wirth said. “We had a lot of volunteers at all stages (of the race). The community really stepped up this year.

“West Penn Track Club had quite a few members help us — especially at the finish line — as they have in the past. And there were a lot of people from neighoring communities, and local high schools, that helped out. People really responded.”


An important part of the tradition has been the continued support of the Fourth of July committee, which receives a sizable contribution annually and is the main beneficiary of the 5K efforts.

A number of charities, such as the Special Olympics, American Cancer Society and Salvation Army, have received donations through the years.

Since 2007, the Disabled American Veterans has been the designated charity for the race. The Brentwood Food Pantry, Brentwood Park Initiative and Brentwood Centennnial committee received donations in 2012.


Although Ahlin competed in the Brentwood Firecracker Run for the first time in 2012, she was not a newcomer to the area running scene.

Ahlin competed for Allegheny College from 2001 to 2005, and was a four-time All-American in the mile, 1,500-meter and 5K.


A weeping cherry tree in memory of Boyko was planted last year in front of the Brentwood Library, as a gift from WPTC.

An honorary plaque was placed in front of the tree which reads, “In memory of Janice Boyko — a treasured Brentwood and West Penn Track Club volunteer.”


For questions or more information about the Brentwood Firecracker 5K, email, call 412-254-3230 or the Brentwood Library at 412-882-5694, or visit

Ray Fisher is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5820 or

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