The Crescent City Classic has become a New Orleans tradition, but why was it started and who are the people behind it?
The 10-kilometer road race for runners and walkers is indeed a classic in New Orleans, but it also is recognized as one of the country's premier races and draws about 20,000 athletes each year from across the United States and several other countries.
Mac DeVaughn organized the first Crescent City Clas-sic (CCC) for Sept. 23, 1979. It drew about 900 participants. Every year thereafter, the 6.2-mile race was scheduled for the Saturday before Easter. At first, the course started across from Jackson Square and ended at Audubon Park with a post-race celebration. In 2000, the course was changed to wind from the French Quarter to City Park.
In 1997, the nonprofit Crescent City Fitness Foundation (CCFF), dedicated topromoting health and fitness in the New Orleans area, took over administration of the 10-K race, which now includes a two-day health and fitness expo at its sponsor hotel, the Sheraton New Orleans. There is a huge post-race festival at the park, which is open to the public. Race participants and children under 12 are admitted for free. Others can pay a $5 admission fee to attend the party. The next CCC is April 23, 2011.
"It's our way of introducing people to road races," CCFF Executive Director Rick Lusky says. "It's a pretty established sport, but the kids don't do it. We're not even [focusing on attracting] kids in track, just kids and families so they can come and enjoy the park."
What makes the CCC so special? "Mac's vision, and we've tried to maintain it, is exercise New Orleans style," Lusky says. "It combines fitness with things that make New Orleans so special — putting that little spin that makes things uniquely ours."
The post-race festival includes local cuisine, Abita beer, Kentwood water, Zatarain's jambalaya and entertainment by local musicians. The expo before the race sees about 10,000 visitors a year, Lusky says, and features exhibitors showing the latest in running shoes and apparel, exercise equipment, nutritional and wellness products, fitness services and more.
The race is sanctioned by USA Track & Field and boasts two world records, one set in 1984 and another in 2002.
"We are (scheduled) early in the season," Lusky says. "We have world-class athletes come here, and the weather is pretty good. For a $20 registration fee, you get to listen to music, all you want to eat and drink, a T-shirt, expo and a whole lot of fun."
The CCFF also gives grants of $1,000, $2,000 or $3,000 to schools, churches and other groups based on the number of people they bring to the CCC. The funds ($20,000 in grants are available each year) can be used for uniforms, equipment, to fund trips to sports meets, for healthy snacks after fitness events, and more.
The CCFF also sponsors other road races during the year. The Crescent City Con-nection Road Race is an evening run of 4 miles across the Mississippi River bridge. The Cres-cent City Fall Classic, held in November, is a 5-K qualifier for the CCC that features team competitions and has special age-group awards. The Celebration in the Oaks Run/Walk is the second-largest 2-mile event in the United States. After the run, participants are treated to a viewing of City Park's yule-tide light displays before the public is admitted. The Crescent City Classic, Junior aims to attract youngsters and their families and includes a youth-oriented fitness expo and post-race festival.
The CCFF is publishing a 2011 calendar that includes tips and training schedules for each of the races the nonprofit sponsors. For information about CCC events and programs, visit www.ccc10k.com.