AVON PARK - Joggers braved Saturday's crisp morning air and some light traffic along Main St. to support the Red Devils track and field program in the 27th annual Mall Fest Early Bird 5k and Fun Run.
"We've been doing this for quite a while," said race organizer Chet Brojek. "It's always benefitted the Red Devils boys and girls track program, while summer's Firecracker 5k is for the cross country program."
The event actually predates Brojek, who's been organizing races throughout Highlands County since he took a teaching job at Avon Park High School in 1969.
"This race is probably about 40 years old," Brojek said. "It was originally called the Hog Jog, and it used to coincide with a BBQ - the perfect post-race snack."
Chuck Best was the overall winner of this year's Mall Fest, blazing around the course in 21 minutes, 56 seconds. Brian Musselman captured the Male Masters class in 26:31, and Mike Stewart was the Grand Master Male winner at 23:22.
Vicki Musselman was the Overall Female winner, setting a blistering pace to finish fourth overall at 26:26. Helen Bingenheimer won the Masters Female class in 27:52, while Dr. Elena Febre was the Grand Master Female champ at 32:45.
Other impressive times on the men's side included Alex Musselman, who won the nine and under age group with a time of 35:23. Tony Vasque won the 35-39 class in 28:12, followed by Chris Capuano in 32:41.
In the 40-44 age group, Thomas LaMorte paced all runners with at 36:45, while Mike Eastman breezed into first in the 45-49 class in 32:46. Carl Gillilan was behind him in 49:51.
Nelson Pacheco was the sole runner in the 50-54 class, finishing with a sizzling time of 34:34. There was also only one runner in the 55-59 class, with Edwin Serrano coming in at 42:47. Randy Severn won the 60-64 age group in 26:43. Severn outran Charlie Potter (27:07), Ray Trudell (31:24), and Kenny Vincent (41:42) to capture the class championship.
Howard Hart represented the 65-69 group, trotting in at 49:53. In the 70-74 class, Tom Delaney edged Cliff Ables for first place. Delaney came in at 32:01, while Ables finished in 37:44.
In the 75-and-over categories, Harold Smith came in at 30:48, while Mac Perkins finished in 49:45. Kenneth Filppula, the sole runner over 80, came in at 46:33.
Leah Moore took home first place in the girls 14-19 age group. Moore finished in 31:24 to edge Nichole Moore, who placed in 38:50. Alaina Pattillo won the 20-24 class in 40:32.
In the 35-39 age group, Stacy LaMorte-Clark galloped to first in 35:10. Frannie Gillilan was second in 37:36, while Ronda Pattillo rounded out the top three in 40:33. Vicki Hicks was the sole runner in the 40-44 age group, finishing in 29:50.
Dana O'Rourke bested Judy Bassett in the 45-49 class. O'Rourke finished in 30:05 while Bassett came in at 45:55.
Brenda Rickert steamrolled the competition in the 55-59 age group. Rickert captured the class in 28:32, following by Debbie Webber, the next closest, who finished in 34:40. Ramonita Pacheco rounded out the group at 50:31.
Bettye Hart was the lone runner in the 60-64 class, finishing in 39:40.
There were three runners in the 70-and-over class. Lois Hotchkiss won the 70-74 class in 35:10. Julie Creed was second in 48:38. Audrey Smith was the lone runner in the 75-79 age group, finishing in 43:14.
The Fun Run, which was reserved for the youngsters, saw Connor Darrow come in at 3:59 while Mattingly Moore finished in 3:33.
Timing was provided by Central Florida Striders.