Students prepare for 26th Spirit Run The school fund-raiser is Sunday at Fashion Island in Newport Beach. By NIYAZ PIRANI The Orange County Register

NEWPORT BEACH The 150 students sprinting across the field at Eastbluff Elementary aren't doing it because they have to, but because they want to.

The students, members of the school's Fast Feet running club, are preparing for Sunday's Spirit Run.

That event, a community-driven race at Fashion Island, now in its 26th year, benefits five Newport Beach elementary schools and has raised over $1.5 million overall.

Organizers hope to cull at least $75,000 from this year's event.

While the Spirit Run is one of the oldest school fund-raisers in the county, it's certainly not the only one. Irvine Unified also has a run and a house raffle to fund programs, while Saddleback Valley Unified parents recently sold baked goods, among several other programs, to raise money.

The money is used for programs including physical education, art, music and technology programs at Andersen, Eastbluff, Harbor View, Lincoln and Newport Coast elementary schools. Also, participants can sign up in the name of any other Newport-Mesa school, and $5 will be given to that school for each entrant.

Some of those programs would not be able to be funded, said Charlene Metoyer, principal at Harbor View. It's part of our culture at Harbor View to integrate music and art and social studies and provide exciting activities as part of who we are.

Cheryl Beck, principal at Eastbluff, said funds from the run have provided a physical education teacher at her school, among the programs that are helped by the race.

Events this year range from a 1/4 mile track for children as young as 4 to a 15K for serious runners.

Spirit Run Chairwoman Diane Daruty, a parent of students at Eastbluff, said the Spirit Run's 11 events aren't just to raise money for education, but to provide health education in a fun way to people of all ages.

It helps kids realize how important physical fitness is in their lives, and it's a phenomenal event, Metoyer said. If I didn't know it was a fundraiser, it's definitely a fundraiser.