Many disasters catch us by surprise.
Not the zombie apocalypse. We know when it will happen and where, and we have a little time to prepare. Mark your calendars for 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1, at Apollo Park in Homewood.
That's when Homewood-Flossmoor music students will temporarily transform into festering zombies ready to lurch after runners in the second annual Zombie Fun Run, an event designed to be a little creepy, a lot of fun and an opportunity for the community to support the HF High School Orchestra's 2015 trip to Spain.
The event is being organized by Homewood-Flossmoor Fine and Performing Arts Council, which sponsors the annual trip for music students.
Co-chairs of the fun run committee, Anne Colton and Erika Holliday, describe the event as filling a niche in seasonal entertainment, sort of a haunted house with cardiovascular aspects rather than a serious race. And while it's creepy enough to qualify for the Halloween event circuit, it's a family-friendly kind of creepiness.
That's something that sets it apart from most other zombie-oriented running events, according to Colton. She said she participated in a zombie run as part of her research while organizing the Homewood event last year.
“None of them are set up for kids,” she said. “In fact, some of them have a 14 and over policy. Since half of our kids are barely 14 anyway, we didn't see any reason to put an age limit on it, and as a result more than half of our runners were kids.”
They included a family rate, too, to make it easier for families to participate and to emphasize the character of the event, Holliday said.
“We really are inviting you to come, and we think it might be a fun thing for you and your family to do,” she said.
Colton said the student zombies are trained to be sensitive to the feelings of younger runners.
“We had kids as young as 4 years old running,” she said. “We told them, 'If anyone looks scared, you are to drop the zombie thing immediately, get down on one knee, and tell them, “I'm just a teenager and everything's fine.”'”
Safe as it is, the zombies and runners took their roles seriously last year and had a lot of fun playing out the zombie apocalypse scenario, she said.
Zombies lurked behind trees in the park and leaped out as runners came by. They lurked in the woods of adjacent Butterfield Park, peering from behind bushes and branches. One local musician supplied spooky music and creepy sound effects at various points in the route.
Some runners really got into the spirit of things, coming dressed as zombies themselves, making it a zombie vs. Zombie affair. Steve Ploum and Steve Buchtel even came dressed as Ed and Shaun from the zombie comedy film, “Shaun of the Dead,” complete with cricket bat and vinyl records to help them combat zombies.
The event last year was so successful, with 25 zombies and 210 runners, that Colton and Holliday decided to stick fairly close to the script.
One change, though, is a compression of the length of the event from four hours to two. Waves of runners will be unleashed more frequently to keep the zombies busier.
Last year, organizers were pretty much making things up as they went, Colton said.
The fundraiser for the HF Band's trip to China started life as a 5K race, but organizers soon realized that there were several similar benefit races scheduled within just a few weeks of the HFFPAC event. Organizers worried they would be competing for the same pool of runners.
“That's how the whole zombie thing came about,” Colton said. “What can we do that's going to be different?”
She credits Rachael Jones, Village of Homewood marketing and public relations manager at the time, with adding zombies to the mix.
Jones had created the award-winning marketing campaign, “Zombie Paradise,” a series of three videos published on YouTube. She wanted to organize a zombie fun run, but told Colton the village needed a charitable cause to give the proceeds to and needed a supply of zombies.
“I told her, 'I can solve both problems,'” Colton said.
She said the first year, the organizers did not have a clear plan for how to convert their 5K idea into a zombie run event, so they just forged ahead and created the event on the fly. That improvisational approach actually paid off in several ways, according to Colton.
“What was cool was that it was so homemade,” she said, noting that signs, barricades and other decorations were made from basic materials, corrugated cardboard, Sharpie markers, duct tape and wire hangers. “We wanted to make it look like a zombie apocalypse.”
The homemade approach was also cheap to do.
“We're raising money. We have to be frugal,” Holliday said. “It plays into what we could afford, which is nothing.”
They were delighted with the acceptance the idea received from sponsors, partners and the rest of the community. As organizers presented the idea, they expected to encounter hurdles. They didn't.
“We were expecting a 'no' and we got a 'yes,' every step of the way,” Colton said.
Colton and Holliday said the positive, creative response to the idea is comment on what makes Homewood a special place.
“We're trying to do something different,” Holliday said. “It's a little more fun to have things that involve the community, that bring people together, and give us another reason to remember why we like our community so much, because people show up for this stuff.”
It's also an indication of how strong support for education is in the Homewood-Flossmoor community, she added.
“Whether you can fully embrace this concept or just think it's kind of cheesy or something, it's for the kids,” she said.
About 60 student musicians will have the opportunity to perform in Spain, and the journey will be a learning experience that will enrich their lives, according to the HFFPAC website.
Holliday and Colton hope future fundraising campaigns for the annual trip will continue to include the zombie run in their plans.
“I'm here because I had so much fun putting it together last year,” Colton said. “It's a cool idea, and I want to see it live.
Registration fees for the event are $30 for adults, $20 for students 18 and under and $70 for families of up to six people.
Contact Eric Crump at [email protected]