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Castle Valley Center goes to the (sled) dogs

Gaylene Coco stands with Steven Tucker, Ricky Richardson and Dalton Allred in front of the Iditarod display in the front foyer of the Castle Valley Center. The race begins in Alaska on Saturday and the students will be following its progress with special events.

Sun Advocate publisher

The Castle Valley Center has gone to the dogs.

Well at least that is what they will be watching in the next week and a half.

Saturday is the first day of one of the biggest events that takes place in Alaska, the Iditarod Dog Sled Race. And the students and staff at the school are going to follow it closely, with events and celebrations throughout the nine day race.

The idea came from Gaylene Coco, an instructor at the school who thought it would be a wonderful and unusual thing for the kids to hitch their to. She has been interested in the Iditarod for a long time.

"I started following the race in 1974 and have watched what was going on with it every year since," she said on Tuesday. "I love dogs and Alaska and the race."

The race in Alaska begins on Saturday in Anchorage and will end sometime when the first musher and his or her dogs cross the finish line in Nome on the west coast of the state. The yearly race that started in 1973 and is named after the famous serum run in 1925 when teams of sled dogs brought badly needed medicine to Nome during a diphtheria outbreak that threatened the total population of the town.

This year officials are planning for 69 teams to run the race. The 1,000 mile long trek takes its toll on equipment, dogs and people. It is run basically 24 hours a day until the finish, although there are some forced layovers for mushers and their teams.

The advent of the Internet and the use of it by race officials and promoters has made it easier than ever for people to follow the race. There is a lot of information on the races official site ( and they also have a "Teacher on the Trail" program. Castle Valley Center can use the site to view video and get up to the minute information about what is going on.

The school plans a number of events around the race including following their favorite mushers and a "Kidarod" next week in which the kids will pull Principal Mike Keller around the grounds of the school. A huge display in the front foyer of the building has a race map and biographies of some of the race participants.

"Each class is building a sled (made out of a wagon or something else) and that is what they will use," said Coco. "Every teacher has to determine what they will use in the project."

Each "sled" will also contain "serum" (in this case unbroken, uncooked eggs). The goal is to complete the race in good time without the eggs staying intact. There will be different stations at which the teams will stop and they will draw a card at those stations and that will give them instructions as to what to do. They will have to perform tasks such as water the dogs, feed the dogs (trail mix), change the dogs booties, and other things. The sled will be pulled by as many students as a team sees fit.

The entire thing is a learning experience. The students will learn about animals, Alaska and teamwork.

"They will also learn about perseverance," said Coco. "That is something these students will face their entire lives."

The "Kidarod" event will take place at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 6 on the school grounds. The public is invited to watch.

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