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BC stakes its claim to Mile 21

Boston College students (from left) Justin Pike, Matthew McCluskey, Katrina Lutfy, and Cliff Baratta are behind Mile21. Boston College students (from left) Justin Pike, Matthew McCluskey, Katrina Lutfy, and Cliff Baratta are behind Mile21. (Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff)
By Matthew DeLuca
Globe Correspondent / April 10, 2011

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As the runners in the Boston Marathon grind their way up Heartbreak Hill on Patriots Day, they may receive an extra boost as they near Boston College.

Organizers of the Mile21 Campaign expect to have throngs of cheering students lined up to mark the Chestnut Hill college’s unique location along the path of the world-famous race.

“We’re at the most critical part of the Marathon,’’ said BC junior Katrina Lutfy, one of four students who have been working with university administrators, Newton officials, and the Boston Athletic Association since February on the project. “We want to help people get up the hill. The whole idea behind this was that we want to support the Boston College runners,’’ she said.

Lutfy and her fellow organizers have planned giveaways and a barbecue designed to get students to line Commonwealth Avenue for what they are calling the “Golden Mile.’’ They were inspired in part by Wellesley College’s famous “Scream Tunnel,’’ created by students providing vocal support for marathoners passing the Route 135 campus.

“We actually were in communication with Wellesley,’’ said Matthew McCluskey, a graduate student at Boston College and Mile21 organizer. “Obviously we don’t want to just regurgitate what they’re doing, but come up with our own traditions.’’

The organizers are planning a panoramic photo of students at the Marathon, and a video highlighting BC runners in the 26.2-mile event. They also hope to hoist an inflatable arch that says “the heartbreak is over’’ across Commonwealth Avenue.

Marathon Monday (which this year falls on April 18) has long been acknowledged by Boston College, the organizers said. With no classes that day, students typically drift toward the Marathon route. What the Mile21 Campaign aims to do, they said, is to enrich the school’s traditions.

“In the past there was a sort of transient nature with Commonwealth Ave. itself, but we want to get students out there and get them to stay there,’’ McCluskey said.

“We wanted to give students something to do that day and add new traditions,’’ said senior Justin Pike, another founding member of the Mile21 Campaign.

Patrick Rombalski, vice president for student affairs at Boston College, said that ideas for creating a structured day around the Marathon had been discussed by administrators for some time. When the students came to him with their Mile21 proposal, he said, he did not hesitate to give his support.

“They’re to be applauded for their enthusiasm,’’ he said. Rombalski and other administrators helped the students work out logistical details and communicate with Newton officials, including Mayor Setti Warren. They did not have any trouble getting support from the city or the BAA, which puts on the race, Rombalski said.

“When you go into it you think they might be concerned,’’ he said. “But their attitude has been, ‘We’d love to see something like this happen at BC.’ ’’

BC senior Cliff Baratta, the fourth Mile21 organizer, said he thinks students will take to the new events. “People do get so excited that day. The energy, it really permeates the whole culture, I think, whether you’re at a barbecue or along the route jumping up and down.’’

Mile21 organizers also want the world to know that Boston College students are Marathon runners too.

“One thing that comes up a lot is that there are so many BC students who run out there,’’ Baratta said.

“More than the physicality behind it, there’s a great story that we’re trying to tell,’’ Pike said.

This year, Boston College will be fielding 240 runners, almost all students, through a group sponsored by the university’s Campus School, which educates disabled students between the ages of 3 and 21.

The runners, though not an officially recognized charity of the Boston Marathon, raise money for the Campus School, said Morgan Panzenhagen, a BC senior and president of the Campus School volunteer group that organizes the contingent.

“Each year we raise about $50,000,’’ Panzenhagen said. “Running by BC is always a great experience.’’

The number of runners has jumped from around 150 her freshman year, she said.

Though three of the four Mile21 organizers will be graduating and leaving Chestnut Hill this year, they say they have taken steps to ensure that it remains a staple of campus activity for years to come.

“The other thing we’ve done when we talk to administrators is say we want this to be a tradition, and get them to commit to making it a tradition,’’ Pike said.

Rombalski said that he plans to do just that.

“There’s no doubt we want to make it a tradition,’’ he said. “We think it’s going to be relatively easy over the next couple years because it is such a world-class event.’’