On March 25, participants will gather for the second annual Top Gun Run to benefit the Andrew McMorris Foundation and Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts. This 5K run/walk will take place on an actual runway at the EPCAL property in Calverton, NY. The race is named after Boy Scout Andrew McMorris, who was killed by a drunk driver while hiking the Greenbelt Trail in Manorville with his Boy Scout Troop. Several other Scouts were severely injured as a result of this tragic crash. The lives of his family, friends, community and fellow scouts were forever changed by Andrew’s loss.
“September 30, 2018 was probably the one of the most horrific things to happen to a family and to our boy scout troop. The drunk driver plowed into the entire line of scouts. Andrew was the last one struck, and he was the one that was fatally struck,” said Alisa McMorris, his mother, when she recounted the events of that day.
It’s a normal response to withdraw after such a tragedy, but McMorris knew that’s not what her son would have wanted. Their estate attorney suggested starting a foundation in Andrew’s name, which resonated with the family. “That first year, we sat around a kitchen table came up with a logo and pooled all of our money with my sister’s and brother’s, and we handed out two scholarships.” The scholarships were distributed on Andrew’s birthday, March 30.
The McMorris family decided to further commemorate this special day by holding the annual race at that time. Last year, the weather on race day was questionable. It was overcast and threatening to rain for most of the lead up to the start. “It’s an overcast day. It was terrible weather; we were kind of worried about it. We were like, come on Andrew, come through for us. We need good weather for this race. And then at the moment when the firefighters raised the flag… you looked at the sky above that flag, it was a perfect hole with sun coming through. And it was as if Andrew was peering down.” McMorris remembered.
Each quarter mile of the race is marked with a plaque featuring a picture of Andrew and one of the defining characteristics of the scout law, such as being loyal and honest. The finishers will also collect a race coin that features a picture of Andrew with the McMorris family’s slogan, “We finish what we start.” These powerful reminders help spread awareness against drunk driving and celebrate Andrew’s spirit.
Hosting the race is an important part of honoring Andrew’s legacy. Many people come to run or walk the runway, but plenty of people come just to watch and cheer on the participants. The atmosphere is more celebration than sadness, something McMorris has her own way of describing. “It’s hard to put into words just what it was like to be there with everyone having the same kind of feeling. And we call it soy- sadness and joy, because there’s a little bit of sadness, but there’s so much joy to be had by the community.” McMorris is sure Andrew would love the annual gathering. “Andrew brought everyone together no matter what they were. He loved the party. And he loved having people over. He would invite people over off the bus all the time.”
Besides the Top Gun Run, the Andrew McMorris Foundation gives out several scholarships. These scholarships are open to high school seniors nationwide and range from $250 to $2500 and the deadline is March 30. They also offer a variety of grants. There are grants of up to $500 for fine arts pursuits for students in K-12 to follow their dreams. These grants are evaluated on a rolling basis from January 10 through June 1. Scouting grants for Eagle Scouts and Gold Star Girl Scout projects are also available. There are aviation grants for up to $1000, and the deadline for these grants is March 30. These grants and scholarships are especially meaningful for McMorris, who feels a special connection to the students who knew her son.
It’s important to the McMorris family to raise awareness and spread the message to help decrease the number of these completely preventable deaths. They are advocating for a decrease in the legal blood alcohol limit, from .08 to .05. They are also seeking comprehensive changes to vehicle law to make it safer for everyone on the road.
“Last year’s inaugural Top Gun Run drew more than a thousand participants, and this year is guaranteed to be bigger and better,” said McMorris. “We were so thrilled that so many people came out to celebrate Andrew and helped to turn a runway into a huge party.”
This is a fundraising event and all proceeds support the Andrew McMorris Foundation and the Suffolk County Council of Boy Scouts. The race is seeking sponsors. For sponsorship information, please contact Donna Lillie at dmlillie.bsa@gmail or on her cell at (631)774-8074.
To register for the race, visit https://runsignup.com/Race/NY/Calverton/AndrewsTopGunRun5K