Steps for Students sprints to success

February 28, 2023

HOUSTON — The Steps for Students 5K Run/Walk sprinted into success as runners raced from the starting line in downtown Houston Feb. 11 and others, including parents with little ones, took a brisk stroll in chilly temperatures.

Adding to the party atmosphere among the crowd of more than 8,000, colorful confetti blasted up and swirled around. Continuing the Lunar New Year celebration, three sparkling red, white and black lion dancers joined costumed school mascots. Toro the Bull from the Houston Texans, Howdy from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and Hugo the Armadillo from sponsoring company Reliant brought their own brand of fun antics.

IN PHOTOS: Seen at Steps for Students 2023

Catholic School Superintendent Dr. Debra Haney welcomed participants as they streamed into the streets after the 7 a.m. sunrise Mass at the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

“Steps for Students is a truly family event in which everyone can participate,” Haney said from a stage near runners by the starting line. They warmed up while awaiting the 8:30 a.m. air horn blast signaling the beginning of the run.

Haney was joined by Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, who thanked all those supporting Steps “for your energy and effort to continue to grow this event” and support Catholic schools.

In his prayer and blessing to the crowd, Cardinal DiNardo said, “We ask You, God, to pour forth your blessings upon our runners and walkers for Steps for Students… rooted in the steps of Jesus.”
He highlighted that the top 10 individual fundraisers — including priests, teachers, principals and students — brought in more than $134,000 altogether. But the top solo team, St. Ambrose Catholic School, raised more than $120,000 and won the 5K’s David Guite Spirit Award, the highest honor given by the Steps for Students race committee.

The award is named in memory of Guite, a strong advocate for Catholic education, former principal of Our Lady of Fatima at Galena Park and founding member 18 years ago of the Steps for Students event. The award each year recognizes the school that engages the students, families, and parish community to celebrate education of mind, heart and spirit.

Incarnate Word Academy once again won the President’s Cup, given to the high school with the highest percentage of their enrollment registered for the race. The traveling trophy will stay at IWA until next year’s race to add friendly high school competition to the race.

St. Thomas High School had several of their track team members run the sanctioned 5K, with their coach Nathan Labus congratulating them with fist bumps as they crossed the finish line. But the overall win as the top male finisher of the race went to Strake Jesuit College Preparatory student Jackson Jamison with 16:18 overall best time, an average of 5:15 per mile. The top female finisher once again was Casey Timme, a St. Martha Catholic school parent, beating her time last year with a current 18:52, about a six-minute mile.

A post-race party with tents carried on the celebration in the parking lot on Fannin behind the downtown Chancery.

Forty-nine Catholic schools were represented in the Catholic School Village, creatively decorating each of their booths. St. Theresa Catholic School in Houston won the “Village Leader” award for its Mardi Gras theme outfitting its booth in purple, green and gold, complete with beads and masks.

Those cooking at their booths, including Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School, drew long lines for hungry kids and families to enjoy pancakes, sausage, breakfast tacos and other giveaway treats among the piles of bananas and bottles of water.

Guadalupe Radio, KSHJ AM 1430, broadcast live from its tent in the Village with host Tim Motte kicking off the 8 a.m. show interviewing Cardinal DiNardo. Throughout the morning, Motte also interviewed student runners, priests like Father T.J. Dolce, Father Richard “Luke” Millette and Father Richard McNeillie, wearing shorts and running shoes, and religious sisters who ran in their habits.

A touching radio interview came from a family who are parishioners of tornado-damaged St. Hyacinth Catholic Church in Deer Park who nonetheless showed up at the 5K in support of Catholic education. Anna Butler and husband Mickey walked the course with their son Michael Butler, a coach at Resurrection Catholic School, while his wife April Felan-Butler ran the 5K with other St. Hyacinth parishioners.

“We’re here supporting our Catholic schools and also representing St. Hyacinth. Our faith continues as we rebuild. All glory to God,” Anna Butler told Motte and the radio audience.

Steps for Students committee co-chairs Román and Diana Dávila Martinez, themselves Ivy League graduates, steered the event to success.

“Many thanks to our incredible underwriting sponsors who make race day possible. It is through their contributions that all race day expenses are covered so schools can keep all the monies they raise!” Román Martinez said.

Schools can use the funds for computers and other equipment as well as academic enrichment programs for students and staff continuing education training.

“This year, we surpassed our underwriting goal. We have many great sponsors that have supported us for years. This year we had a lot of new sponsors joining our Steps family. All monies not allocated go directly to tuition assistance to help children receive a Catholic education,” he said.

Diana Dávila Martinez added, “Steps for Students is a wonderful testimony to the incredible support that exists in the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston for Catholic education. It has truly become a beautiful tradition and celebration of community for our schools and churches.”

This year’s new presenting sponsor Gilbert Andrew Garcia of Garcia Hamilton & Associates money management firm first donated $25,000. But they surprised the crowd with an announcement from the stage on race day: Garcia’s wife Dee Dee said they were donating an additional $50,000, which helped surpass the event’s underwriting goal of $200,000.

Schools have until Feb. 28 to collect additional funds for the run, and donors can contribute through the website
Besides the funds, the Garcias also devoted their time and talent to the Catholic schools where their children attended from Corpus Christi Catholic School to St. Thomas and St. Agnes High Schools.

Gilbert Garcia said, “I’ve done everything at the schools from coaching soccer, wearing the mascot outfit, serving as gala auctioneer and announcing at the track and field meets for the Greater Houston Catholic Athletic Association.”

Among the Steps for Students runners and supporters were the ever-popular “Rally Nuns,” the Dominican Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province, many who teach at Catholic schools. For the past 18 years, they have run in the race, but they gained national recognition cheering on the Houston Astros during the World Series.

“When students see their own teachers running or rallying, it brings unity, which is always a beautiful sight to embrace,” said Sister Mary Magdalene Nguyen, director of the local order’s mission office.

Next year’s Steps for Students 5K Run/Walk is scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. For more information, visit †