WELLSVILLE - The little witches, zombies, wild animals and superheroes running around and enjoying an early taste of Halloween candy Saturday afternoon in Wellsville created a joyful spectacle for the adults who knew the serious inspiration behind the day's festivities.
It was the life of Mathugh Johnston, cut tragically short by leukemia in 2007 when he was just 15, that was commemorated during the fourth annual Dash for Mat's Bash 1.5-mile run and family fun walk.
Children ages 9 and under in their Halloween costumes competed in a 100-yard dash down Main Street, with candy bags and small pumpkins as rewards. Adult and youth participants completed a 1.5-mile course along Main Street and Riverside Avenue at either a running or walking pace.
More than 300 runners and walkers take off from the starting line at the fourth annual Dash for Mat’s Bash on Saturday afternoon in Wellsville. The event raises money for the Mathugh Johnston Memorial Corp., which provides scholarships and other aid to residents in need. (Photo by Richard Sberna)
Tim Long, organizer of the event and a cousin of Mathugh's, said they used to participate in runs such as the Bash frequently, so a memorial run in Mathugh's honor was a natural fit. The estimated total registration of more than 400 adult and youth participants on Saturday was inspiring for Long. "It's a testament to the village and truly how important they think these things are," he said.
Before the race, Long spoke movingly of the losses suffered both personally and by the community last December, including that of longtime Wellsville High School wrestling coach Darrel Nightingale, who died in a traffic accident on Dec. 17, 2011, at 52. Long asked for donations to the Darrel Nightingale Memorial Fund towards the renovation of the wrestling building named in his honor, which is in need of renovations.
There was also the death of Tom Bailey, another member of the Wellsville wrestling community, who was killed in an accident at Heritage-WTI in East Liverpool, the following day, Dec. 18, at age 52. He described the loss as, "A very sad occasion [and] a very impactual day for the wrestling community."
Long also spoke of his grandfather, William Long Sr., who died the same day, Dec. 18. He paid tribute to the 88-year-old and other members of that generation, who endured the Great Depression of the 1930s and the World War II during the 1940s. "If any of you have the opportunity to talk to these people, that truly is the greatest generation," he said. "If you get the chance, honor those moments."
Another Wellsville resident who lost their battle with cancer during the preceding year is memorialized at each Bash. This year it was Vickie McCombs, who died last Aug. 10 at age 59, that was honored. Larry McCombs spoke before the race about his late wife, marveling at the memory of her steadfast optimism and stoicism in the face of her illness. "She showed me how brave and courageous a person can be," he said. Vickie was also memorialized as a hard worker and community volunteer, who chaired the annual village Christmas Parade and had been honored as Woman of the Year by the Wellsville Area Chamber of Commerce.
On a lighter note, Long announced that there would be no firemen's relay this year, as no other local department fielded a team for the event. "Wimps," Long said in a mock aside. The result was that Wellsville FD won by default. Long was not to be without exercise, however. He volunteered himself and fellow Wellsville firefighter Andrew Gibbs to run the 1.5 miles in full gear, complete with air tank and two lengths of fire hose, if attendees could fill a fire boot with at least $400 in five minutes to go towards repairs to the Darrel Nightingale Wrestling Room.
The result was almost $700 in donations and, eventually, two very tired and sweaty firefighters.
Proceeds from the Bash will go towards the Mathugh Johnston Memorial Corp., which provides scholarships to deserving Wellsville High School graduates every year and provides support to area families in need following a tragedy or crisis.
Congratulations went out to Tom McNear, who took overall honors for the second year in a row, with a time of 8 minutes, 22 seconds. The true purpose of the the day, however, was for Wellsville residents to gather in support of each other.
Hugh and Julie Johnston, Mathugh's parents, participated again this year and said they were very grateful for the support their family has received over the years, and gratified by all the participants this year's Bash. "The people of Wellsville always turn out for a special cause," Hugh said. "They always come through, the people of this village."
The Bash was sponsored by the Ohio Valley College of Technology, who also sponsors the annual Mathugh Johnston Memorial Golf Scramble each August.