By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer
NORTH MANKATO — The Minnesota State University students had been planning their 5K Bunny Run and Easter Egg Scramble for months, knowing that the traditional Easter Saturday event was going to be especially early on the calendar and particularly vulnerable to the ugly weather that Minnesota often offers in late March.
So what was MSU senior Kayla Altman’s reaction to the hail that fell around 7:15 a.m. Saturday as organizers were setting up at Dakota Meadows Middle School, to the light rain that greeted runners for the 9 a.m. race, to the soggy, muddy field where the tikes were scrambling for plastic eggs?
A huge smile.
“I’m glad it was a bad weather day so I know how to prepare for that,” said Altman, who will get her degree in recreation, parks and leisure services in five weeks.
Planning events like Saturday’s is what Altman wants to do for a living, so there would have been much less to learn if there hadn’t been adversity. And it made it easy for Altman and her classmates to smile by late morning considering that the four-year-old event had its biggest ever turnout of runners (nearly 400); that the paths from Dakota Meadows through Benson Park were clear of ice; that hundreds of people, including scores of kids, were leaving with chilly smiles and heavy Easter baskets; and that $2,000 (also the most ever) had been raised for Leisure Education for Exceptional People.
“This will definitely be in my portfolio,” Altman said. “I think it went great.”
Once again, Scheel’s was the major sponsor, and Scheel’s events coordinator Lori Benike seemed almost as pleased as Altman as she watched the largely happy crowd milling around under the gray sky.
“Obviously a pretty darn good turnout,” Benike said, noting that low expectations weatherwise come with an Easter-timed event. “We’ve never had a sunny year. It has been raining every year.”
So the students in MSU’s event management class, taught by Kristi Montandon, thought pessimistically about the meteorological outlook and planned accordingly. There were tents for the kiddy games, the face painting and the crayon coloring area; the trails had been monitored, scraped and salted where needed; the portable toilets were in place; the runners had been warned to dress warm; and the Easter bunny and his helpers kept the egg scramble moving at a hippity-hoppity pace.
It’s called an egg scramble, rather than an egg hunt, because the candy-filled eggs are laid out in plain sight in an enclosed area. That also makes it an egg free-for-all, but that’s OK because the kids are separated by age into four different heats with the eggs replenished after each round.
“We don’t want any trampled children,” Montandon said.
Between heats, the Easter Bunny (who is also a recreation, parks and leisure services student better known at MSU as Mike Ramirez) led the kids through aerobics and stretches to get them primed for the scramble. With other students scattering the eggs, Ramirez persuaded even the toddlers to join him in a vigorous bunny hop.
Meanwhile, the top runners in the 5K received their honors and LEEP — a nonprofit which provides recreational opportunities for people with developmental disabilities — received an oversized check for $2,000.
All in all, a good day’s work on a bad weather day. With tear-down complete, the MSU students were mostly heading home to spend Easter with family. But, as Altman warned her parents in Lafayette, the members of her class might not make great Easter guests.
“I told them, I might get home, shower and sleep for a day,” she said.