This is an excerpt of On Assignment, education writer Theresa Harrington's blog on Contra Costa County schools. Read more and post comments at IBABuzz.com/onassignment. Follow her at Twitter.com/tunedtotheresa.

Runners needed:

With lots of activities to choose from this weekend, don't forget that the United Mt. Diablo Athletic Foundation is counting on hundreds of runners to show up to its annual 5k race Sunday morning to help keep sports alive in the district.

As of Friday, foundation President Kevin Hennessy said the nonprofit organization was far short of meeting its goal of 2,000 runners, with less than 700 signed up. That means the foundation needs another 1,300 people to sign up before the races start at 9 a.m. Sunday in Newhall Park at Ayers and Turtle Creek roads in Concord.

The foundation is hoping to raise $80,000 this year, which is $20,000 more than last year, Hennessy said. If it doesn't meet the goal, athletic boosters, sports teams and athletes' families may need to make up the difference, he said.

"We're going to have to keep the pressure on for other fundraising mechanisms to keep sports going in the high schools," he said.


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The funds support after-school sports at College Park, Concord, Mt. Diablo, Northgate, Ygnacio Valley and Clayton Valley Charter high schools. To sign up online, visit www.unitedmtdiabloathletics.org.

Registration on day of race is $30 and begins at 7:15 a.m. The competitive race starts at 9 a.m., followed by a "fun run and walk" at 9:45 a.m. and a kiddie race at 10:30 a.m.

What does it take to become an elite aviator?

The Blue Angels and other hotshot aviators, including the Air Force F-22 Raptor, will jockey for attention this weekend as record crowds flood San Francisco for the Fleet Week air show from 1 to 4 p.m.

Although the high-flying aces are well-known for their fantastic feats, they also take pride in the excitement they spread among kids in the communities they visit, inspiring students who may want to follow in their footsteps.

At the United Airlines maintenance hangar at SFO on Thursday, I asked the Blue Angels' lead solo pilot, a female crew member and an Air Force Raptor crew member what advice they had for future aviators.

Blue Angels Navy Lt. Cmdr. C. J. Simonsen encouraged students to study math, science and technology to stay competitive with students around the world.

"Those are the three things that are really going to make this country better, even if you don't get to the ultimate goal of being a Naval aviator," he said. "What we need is kids to be really smart to keep us on the up and up as a country."

Simonsen said he was an aerospace engineer major, but those with other college majors can also enjoy military careers.

"We've got English majors," he said. "We have tons of different majors that are spread over the Blue Angels and over Naval aviation in general."

His parents, he said, instilled in him the desire to set high goals.

"Just always do your best," he said. "That's what I tell kids every week. You've got to stay out of trouble, listen to your parents and you can do anything you want in this world. This country is an unbelievable country in that you have that opportunity to do anything you want to do as long as you keep working hard and achieving those goals."

The military also offers the option to continue your education, said Aviation Ordinance Petty Officer 2nd Class Breanna Gorski. She is pursuing a criminal justice degree online through Liberty University in Virginia.

Although there are only 14 women on the Blue Angels' maintenance and support team, she said she doesn't feel intimidated in the male-dominated environment.

"The guys treat the women like a brother-sister relationship, and we are all respected on the same level," she said. "Nobody feels like they're a prima donna over anyone else."

Although there haven't been any women pilots in the Blue Angels yet, Simonsen said he's sure it will happen as more women apply. In the Air Force, on the other hand, there are three F-22 Raptor pilots, said Master Sgt. Bo Brewer.

Like in the Navy, he said Air Force personnel have a variety of educational backgrounds.

"You can be anything you want to be," Brewer said. "Education in general is important."