By Dan Guttenplan
---- — The race director for tomorrow night’s second annual Flag Day 5K is hoping to draw the largest crowd in the history of Newburyport road racing.
Race director Adam Benoit believes, with enough race-day registrations, the race that benefits the 1st Lt. Derek Hines Soldiers Assistance Fund could draw a pool of runners that surpasses any of the 52 Yankee Homecoming 10-mile races.
While there is no official record for the largest race in Newburyport history, last year’s Yankee Homecoming 5K is believed to be the largest with 1,872 finishers. By comparison, last year’s Flag Day 5K had 1,030 finishers.
“We looked at how much the biggest race in Newburyport drew, and we might be able to break that race’s record,” Benoit said.
The Flag Day 5K, which will start at 6:30 p.m. at the North End Boat Club, has a special meaning for many local residents who knew Hines, a Newburyport native who was killed while serving as a 1st lieutenant in Afghanistan in 2004. The 1st Lt. Derek Hines Soldiers Assistance Fund provides financial assistance to wounded or deceased Massachusetts soldiers and their families.
This year, Benoit offered free registration to any active member of the military, a perk that he attributes in part to the spike in registration. The recruitment class for Essex County Sheriff’s Department will run as a team. That class of 22 includes six active members of the military and two veterans.
Assistant Superintendent of the Essex County Sheriff’s Department Michael Frost said many members of the class have a personal connection to the Flag Day race.
“Certainly the military people realize they are with us but for the grace of God,” Frost said. “Each one of the soldiers knows people who were injured in theater. They’re fortunate they weren’t. The military is like law enforcement in the culture. You leave no one behind, and take care of each other like brothers and sisters. So this is personal for them.”
One member of the class, Lt. Adam Kusser, a member of the Army National Guard, committed to the race after reading Hines’ story on the website for the Flag Day 5K.
“I didn’t know much about the race,” said Kusser, a Newbury resident. “I was reading Hines’ story, and it’s definitely an honorable cause. With all of the military personnel in this class, it seemed like a fitting last class event. I hadn’t even heard of the Hines Bridge, but I was able to drive over it today and check out the monument.”
The Essex County Sheriff’s Department class of recruits will graduate Wednesday. The recruits ran the Middleton Police Department Torch Run for Special Olympics together at the same pace two weeks ago. Kusser believes he and his classmates will get the green light to run tomorrow’s race independently for time.
“I think we’ll be released to do it for time, but that hasn’t been confirmed,” Kusser said. “It’s an important cause. I know a lot of servicemen who have come home to their families, and it’s not the same as when they left. Some struggle to find jobs when they get out, and they want to start a civilian career. Any charity that addresses that is outstanding and much-needed. The people who serve this country deserve that stuff.”