JOHN HUNT: A Tribute To My Friend Sharon Irish

Long-Time Track Club Volunteer Died On Monday

Friday, May 30, 2014

Chattanooga's running community lost a dear friend earlier this week when Sharon Irish died on Monday following a lengthy illness.

Sharon was never a runner, but she endeared herself to members of the Chattanooga Track Club by volunteering for many, many years.  Her husband Terry was an active member of the club and Sharon got involved to support him and to be a part of what he loved.

She was 68 when she died on Monday, which would have been her and Terry's 47th anniversary

Back in the early 80s when the running boom was in full swing, Sharon took care of unsung responsibilities like pre-race registration, race day registration and then results tabulation.  You want to talk about thankless jobs, but she handled them with precision and pride.

All of these details are handled online by computer these days, but it was all done manually back then.  Sharon and her friend Dee Powderly were almost among the first people at a race site and they were always the last to leave.

I always appreciated what they did because I was covering races for the Chattanooga News-Free Press and we always printed the top 20 finishers in every age group.  I was always on deadline and itching to head back to the office to begin typing those results, so Sharon always made a special effort to get them done as quickly as possible for my benefit.

Road races in those days often attracted large numbers of runners.

I'll never forget when the Missionary Ridge race had some 1,500 runners in 1983, which was a mob of folks for a relatively-small area and a fairly-enclosed out-and-back course.  Before I left that day, Sharon made sure that I had the results of every person in every age group with their name, overall place and finish time printed legibly on those long legal-sized pages.

Sharon was all about cutting up and loved to have fun,  but she could also get tough when she had to.  Often when runners were slow getting those finish cards in the appropriate box, she'd go looking for them so her sheets wouldn't be messed up.  She wasn't a big woman, but she ruled with an iron fist and justifiably so as she dealt with a bunch of egotistical runners.

Bud Wisseman called me to tell of her passing and the gears started turning when he shared the sad news.  I knew that I wanted to write a story about her, so I started contacting members of the track club who knew Sharon and who had worked beside her and knew her well.

It did my heart a lot of good to talk to these people, many of whom I hadn't seen or talked to in 15 or 20 years.

As you might expect, I got a lot of great feedback.  The feeling was unanimous about her love and devotion to a local organization whose purpose was promoting running and other forms of physical fitness.

"It's been a long time since I saw Sharon and am sorry to hear about her passing," said Dee Powderly when contacted by phone.

"Sharon loved what she did and didn't think of it as work.  She knew what she was doing and did it well.  We had a lot of fun at those races back in the day, but we also worked hard to get those results right.

"We were always the first to get there and the last to leave.  We worked hard, but we also created priceless memories.  I'll miss her," Dee said.

"Sharon started volunteering for the track club back in the late 70s and always carried that big garbage bag with all of her boxes for the finish cards," remembered Jerry McClanahan, another volunteer who made sure the finish line operation went smooth.

"The track club eventually bought her a laptop, but I can't begin to imagine the number of hours she worked for our benefit.  Sharon was one of the most patient people I've ever been around.  She and Dee were experts when it came to handling race results," he added.

"I have great memories of Sharon as I remember her and Terry from running camp at Camp Ocoee," recalled Ricky Park, who was always a participant back in those days.

"Sharon never said no.  It didn't matter if it was a race or what, if you told her to be there at 4:30 in the morning, she was there.  She was never a runner, but the Chattanooga Track Club was her pet project and I remember her involvement early on.

"I really believe that she kept the club going in those days and I'm sure that there will never be another person so deeply involved with track club activities who was not a runner," he added.

Richard Park, Ricky's dad, was another who was always involved in the club back in those days, both on the administrative side as well as a participant.

"I always felt a level of comfort when I'd go to a race and see Sharon working with registration or results tabulation because I knew it would be done exactly right.  She was an extremely dependable person and so willing to give of herself.

"Sharon devoted a significant amount of time and energy to help the track club.  And she was always friendly and gracious as she did her thing," Richard related his experiences with her.

Debbie Gates was always there as a participant and dominated the women's division for many years.

"You could always count on Sharon being there.  Those of us in the running community didn't treat her any different from someone who ran, but she was always present and more than willing to do whatever was needed at the time.

"She was dependable and willing to do her thing so we could enjoy doing what we loved so much," Gates nodded.

Bill Cheal was another active member who had positive memories.

"I remember Sharon as one of the hardest working people I've ever met.  She always expected you to do things the right way, including putting your finish card in the right box.  If for some reason you didn't do that, she'd raise cain with you," Cheal laughed when sharing this memory.

"Sharon was something else as she did a heck of a job tabulating race results as she was the best at it," he added.

Louis Priddy was the race director for the FCA and Big Oak Ranch 5Ks for many years and he too strongly depended on Sharon for her services.

"The thing I remember most is that she never missed one of my races.  There were times when she had to get tough with people as she had to keep order, but she was really a cheerful person at heart.

"Sharon was the face of the track club races for a long time and she did it all without a lot of recognition," Priddy said.

Wisseman has grown a large variety of roses in his yard for many years and he brought a beautiful arrangement of his flowers to the funeral home on Thursday night.  He also had a card beside the fragrant roses that completely summed up everyone's feelings about her and was signed as the Chickamauga Park Runners..

"Sharon, You have reached the finish line of your final race.  Your finish card has been placed in the correct box.  The master record keeper has reviewed your record and says "Well done, thou good .and faithful servant -- enter thou into the joy of the Lord."

A big part of the track club's early success is now gone, but the good memories will always remain.

Sharon, I'm grateful to you for your kindness and the fun-loving relationship we had in the Chattanooga Track Club.  I'm so happy that your body isn't bound by pain and suffering today.  May our paths hopefully cross again one day in the future.

(Email John Hunt at nomarathonmoose@Comcast.net)


Prep Girls Soccer Schedule And Results

Girls Soccer Aug. 28 Baylor at McMinn County St. Andrews - Sewanee at CSAS Central at Polk County CGLA at Red Bank Grace at East Hamilton East Ridge at Hixson CAK at GPS Warren County at Ooltewah Sequatchie County at White County Signal Mountain at Walker Valley Silverdale at Cumberland County Aug. 29 CCS Tournament Notre Dame ... (click for more)

Prep Volleyball Schedule And Results

Aug. 27 Baylor def. Signal Mountain 3-0 Warren County at Grundy County Aug. 28 Bledsoe County at Notre Dame Boyd-Buchanan at CGLA Bradley Central at East Hamilton Howard at Central CCS at Hixson CSAS at Copper Basin Grace at Silverdale Grundy County at Whitwell Lookout Valley at Sale Creek Central, Ooltewah, Sequoyah at McMinn Central ... (click for more)

General Motors To Invest $185 Million In Engine Plant, Build New Cadillac SRX In Spring Hill

General Motors will invest $185 million to make small gas engines at its Spring Hill manufacturing complex, officials said Wednesday.  GM also identified the next-generation Cadillac SRX as a future mid-size vehicle to be produced at Spring Hill. “We want to congratulate GM on this important investment in its future in Spring Hill and Middle Tennessee,” Governor Bill Haslam ... (click for more)

Concurrent Grand Jury Says Mental Health Court Is On The Way

Members of the Concurrent Grand Jury said in a final report they have been advised that a Mental Health Court is on the way. The report says: "We were pleased to hear from some of our Judges that a mental health court is in the works. As stated in past reports, the need to have such a court is very clear. "We feel it would serve to break the cycle of arrest to those who are ... (click for more)

Vote No On Health Insurance Changes Affecting County Teachers

Our Hamilton County School Board will vote on insurance changes effecting both active employees and retirees, who are not on Medicare at this time.  HCEA strongly objects to changes being made at this time and urges a “No” vote.  Insurance had been frozen three years by negotiations.  Since the Educators Professional Negotiations Act was nullified by the 2011 Legislature, ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Al Sharpton’s Wise Remarks

I’ll admit I paid little more than scant attention to the Monday funeral of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old who was shot and killed by police bullets in Ferguson, Mo., after he allegedly was involved in strong-armed robbery. There are too many tawdry details and, in my way of thinking, there is nothing under God’s sun, absolutely nothing, that gives others the right to riot, burn ... (click for more)