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"We are the cross-country champions of North America, show a little respect," Dick Sullivan, A.K.A. The Founder, was boasting about his Belle Watling running team last weekend at Lancaster's version of the Turkey Trot.

A few things first before you think Sully is some kind of prima donna running braggart. A teller of tall tales after a few post-race brews, yes, but that's part of the Belle Watling legend.

The club he founded 30 years ago is named in honor of the lively madame who was Rhett Butler's diversion in "Gone With the Wind." So anything these guys say is usually tongue-in-cheek.

The cross-country team he's talking about is made up of guys 70 years of age and over.

And there were only two teams entered in their age group in the U.S. championship they won last month near Rochester -- even though the other one was a hated rival, the Syracuse Chargers. And not that many more were entered in the two-man Canadian championship they won in Toronto.

With all that out of the way, it's still an impressive achievement -- they are indeed the cross-country champions of North America -- and just more awards for what may be the oldest masters running club in the nation.

"As far as I know, it is," adds club member Jack O'Sullivan, who is retired from Buffalo Color Corp. "The ones who aren't dead yet, anyway."

Sully, a Buffalo painting contractor, led the way last month at the 5K U.S. Cross-Country championships at Genesee Park. He finished second in the age group to Syracuse's Howard Rubin, a longtime rival.

Right behind Sullivan in third was Buffalo's Tony Napoli, who last year set a world record in the mile for 77-year-old men, and Sandy Bueme, who has cinched another Buffalo News Runner of the Year title this year. O'Sullivan, whose 21 Boston Marathons is second in the club only to Sully's 26, was the fourth team member to score.

Napoli is the oldest and fastest in that that group, but cross-country is somewhat new to him and he wasn't wearing spikes on the muddy course. Jack Garrity, a Buffalo lawyer and Belle Watling veteran, once made that mistake during one of their cross-country races, took a tumble, and broke three ribs.

Sullivan and O'Sullivan went on from Rochester to Toronto, where they took the two-man title in their age group in the Canadian championships.

As befitting their placing, Sully wears a brigadier general's star on his Belle Watling cap. O'Sullivan wears only captain's bars.

Winning is nothing new for Belle Watling, whose list of championships goes back to the days when Sully and his fellow runners, like Dick Kendall and Olcott Brown, had just turned 40 and joined the masters class. They've won not only close to home but on the famed Van Cortlandt Park cross-country trail in the Bronx, in New Jersey and in West Virginia.

It's true that the number of team competitors they race against has dwindled since they hit their 70s, but is that their fault?

Running shorts

Buffalo's Turkey Trot is one of at least 150 similarly named races across the country. But of course, our J.Y. Cameron Memorial Thanksgiving Day Run is not only the oldest Turkey Trot, it's the oldest consecutively run road race in the United States.

Weekend runners at Chestnut Ridge Park have given up their efforts to get the State Department of Transportation to erect a pedestrian walkway next June when a bridge on Route 277 is rebuilt. Paul Wangler, unofficial mayor of Chestnut Ridge and longtime keeper of the Scherff Road water stop, said a pedestrian bridge would add two months and additional expenses to the construction project. DOT officials expect the bridge -- a major part of most of Wangler's routes -- to be out from June to October, meaning Wangler will be spending a lot of time this winter mapping new routes that somehow avoid the bridge and the resulting detoured traffic.

Anne Flynn, who ran as Anne Dobrowolski when she was a star at Lancaster High, New York State champ at 3,000 meters and Iowa runner who helped win a Big 10 cross-country championship, has qualified for the Olympic Marathon trials. Flynn, now 35, a teacher and mother of two who married a physician in Iowa City, ran a 2:47:21 at the Chicago Marathon, reports her proud, former high school coach Kevin Carriero.

Upcoming Races

Reindeer Run, 5K, Medaille College through Forest Lawn, 10 a.m., Dec. 5, 884-3281; Jingle Bell Run For Arthritis, 5K, ECC City Campus, 11 a.m., Dec. 5, 837-8600.