The Day – The 31st Cannonball Run will kick off with a bang in Preston on Thursday

Preston – The cannon will still sound Thursday to kick off the 31st Liz Harris Cannonball Run, but there will be an empty chair at the front of the starting point for this popular and

Preston – The cannon will still sound Thursday to kick off the 31st Liz Harris Cannonball Run, but there will be an empty chair at the front of the starting point for this popular and festive event.

The event’s founder and part of its namesake, the Reverend David L. Cannon, died March 22 at the age of 84 after a long illness. Although he hasn’t attended in recent years, race director Phillip Ludlow said the retired pastor of St. James’s Episcopal Church is always invited. This year’s event t-shirt will feature an illustration of Cannon, drawn by Ludlow’s granddaughter, Willow Ludlow of Preston, a second year student at Norwich Free Academy. Cannon’s daughter, Ruth Friess of Gales Ferry, approved the shirt design. Approximately 30 event sponsors will be depicted on the reverse.

“It was his baby,” Phillip Ludlow said of the Reverend Cannon, the race director “since day one.”

Participants will congregate at the old school grounds on Schoolhouse Road around 6 p.m. Thursday. Registration is $20.

The one-mile Schoolhouse Road will be closed to vehicular traffic at 6:15 p.m. and the cannon will be fired at 7 p.m. for the start of the race.

Prizes will be awarded in multiple age categories, with a $50 bonus prize if the overall winner breaks the event record over a mile of 4:25. The top prize for top high school runners, boys and girls, is a one-week scholarship to Green Mountain Running Camp. The winner of the fastest race time in the under-10 category receives the David L. Cannon Trophy each year.

In all, more than 100 prizes will be awarded, said Phillip Ludlow.

Cannon founded the event in June 1992 following the death of beloved St. James parishioner, Liz Harris, who played many roles with young people in the Preston community. She was a school bus driver, religious education teacher, volunteer at Preston Schools, school board member, Girl Scout leader and a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission. Harris, known as “Auntie Liz”, died of a brain tumor at the age of 45.

Because of Harris’ ardent support of youth activities, Cannon and other St. James leaders wanted to start an event in his name to raise money for local youth programs. Phillip Ludlow, who was involved from the start, said early on the fundraiser was for youth programs in general. Next, the group focused on summer camp scholarships for young people, as this was an area of ​​great need.

Cannon, too, has always been a supporter of youth activities and education. He served on regional community college boards and was a passionate advocate for equal access to education, and also served on the boards of several area social service organizations.

Even after Cannon retired from serving as vicar of St. James for nearly 50 years, he was still invited and assisted until his health failed. “He was always invited, always seated up front,” Phillip Ludlow said.

The race turned into a parade of vehicles with the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 and was canceled last year.

Already this spring, even before Thursday’s flagship event, with funds raised from a golf tournament, the group funded 27 summer camp scholarships, including scout camps, local summer camps and will even send seven students from Norwich Regional Technical High School to the Skills USA camp. , a national showcase for students of technological high schools.

“It was a big deal for this year,” said Phillip Ludlow.

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