Fall means cross-country season for area high school runners. For track distance runners, the change from running around a track to hilly and grassy terrain is a welcome one. But, they're not the only ones running around getting muddy during their races. One man in particular endures the weather -- rain or shine -- right along with them.
Bill Wende attends cross-country, indoor and outdoor track meets, takes photos, talks to athletes and coaches, samples the food at the respective concession stands and then throws it all onto a website he created called Section6Runs.com. All of this is done during his free time.
The funny thing is, Wende didn't even run cross-country in school. Instead, he was a football, hockey and track man at Clarence High School, where he graduated in 1974.
"No cross-country -- that was a pansy sport," said Wende. His opinion changed when his oldest son, Kurt, decided to run cross-country for his high school, Williamsville North. In 2006 for Kurt's senior year, the team went to states. With Kurt's interest in cross-country, a very early version of Section6Runs was born.
"It was just a dad taking the pictures and putting the website together for the guys for their own thing," said Wende. Since then, the website has done nothing but expand and gather more interest.
"The thing that got me was with all the coverage in the papers it's always the top runners that are getting the press and all the other guys are buried somewhere in the paragraph," Wende said. "Once Kurt graduated, it was like, 'OK, if I can take this just a step beyond and include all of Section VI and give not just the elite runners the coverage, but all the kids.' "
With that, Section6Runs.com was born. Wende could cover meets his other son, Jake, was at while catering to the Section VI running community. Word of the website has spread like wildfire in the running community since 2006.
An interest in photography erupted with the creation of the website. Wende has spent thousands of dollars on camera equipment to ensure that each kid gets to look at a great photo of him or herself running.
"I wanted to get every kid on the site. That may be some significant moment for them -- it could be a PR," he continued, using runner lingo for "personal record."
Wende spends his weekends attending meets and then editing and updating the site afterward. Four to five hours are spent weeding through the pictures and the chosen ones are then cropped and edited, taking up another four to five hours of Wende's time. His work is not going unnoticed, either.
"I've got the statistics for the site and on average the site has grown 25 to 30 percent per year in terms of visitors," said Wende. Now, six years and more than 3 million views on the website later, Wende has an audience who depends on his coverage of the meets.
"I've found colleges are using it as a recruiting tool," he said.
Next on Wende's list is to get more advertising on the website.
Section6Runs started small but has done nothing but grow. Area runners and coaches depend on Wende for race schedules, race results and photos.
The plan is for Section6Runs to continue growing.
"We'll see how this thing keeps evolving," said Wende. "I'd like to eventually call it Section65runs and cover Section V."
That's the future. For now, it's still Section6Runs.com and "it gets me out of the house and my wife is happy," said Wende.
Emily Steves, a former NeXt correspondent, is a freshman at St. Bonaventure University.