Weinhandl hikes to raise money for local cross country programs

By Ken Lay

Rich Weinhandl recently grabbed his hiking gear and hit the Appalachian Trail for a cause.

The Central High School cross country coach embarked on his personal 72 Challenge as he and a friend set out to hike the stretch of the trail that runs through Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Weinhandl hit the 72-mile stretch shortly after celebrating his 72nd birthday to raise money so that student-athletes could participate in cross country at Central, Gresham Middle School, and Shannondale and Ritta elementary schools. He also said that he’s looking to assist both Fountain City and Inskip elementary schools as they attempt to start cross country programs when school resumes in the fall.

“I want to get more kids into the sport of cross country and we have some kids who can’t participate because their parents can’t afford the sports competition fee, and a lot of those parents have more than one kid,” said Weinhandl, who celebrated his birthday on April 10. “Our goal was to raise $7,200.

“72 was the theme because I just turned 72.”

He came up just short of accomplishing his goal as he raised $5,100. But he’s far from distraught as he noted that the fundraising campaign remains an ongoing effort.

“We raised $5,100, but people can donate,” Weinhandl said. “People can write a check to Central High School cross country and it will get to where it needs to go.”

When Weinhandl took the reins of the Central cross country team a few years ago, the school’s uniforms were old.

“When I came here, our uniforms were old and tattered and we didn’t have enough to go around,” he said. “We’ve gradually been able to replace our uniforms.”

Now, he’s attempting to help the schools that feed into his program.

“You have kids who can’t participate at Ritta, Shannondale and even Gresham. All of those schools received a check,” Weinhandl said. “We’re continuing to raise money for those schools.

“We’re also going to help Inskip and Fountain City as they attempt to start their programs this fall. Money left over will go to benefit our program.”

Weinhandl began his trek on April 27 and he completed the journey on May 6, ending a trip full of adversity.

“I had a friend and he struggled, and when we started it was raining, so we had to find a shelter,” he said.

The shelter was overcrowded as 20 people piled into a shelter built to accommodate 12.

“The first day, it was rainy, cold and windy,” Weinhandl said. “Quarters were pretty tight.”

But Weinhandl persevered and met some people along the way.

“The people we met were great,” he said. “We met a guy from London, England and he started on the Appalachian Trail in Florida and he was making his way up to Canada. He told us that he loved American trails.”

Despite the challenges the coach faced on his journey, he’s planning another trip in late June as he and his son will take on another section of the trail.