May 3, 2010
Ducky armada surfs Dry Creek
14th annual Corn-Ducky Derby at Suggett Park raises $12,000
A trumpet sounded Saturday morning and the dam made of plastic sheets and plywood boards was pushed aside, unleashing water into Dry Creek from under the Hamlin Street bridge and with it a flock of 4,715 yellow plastic ducks.
The 14th annual Corn-Ducky Derby at Suggett Park brought hundreds of people to the creek banks to watch the ducks head downstream, each one marked with a number that could mean cash for the sponsor.
Children raced along the 500-foot course, watching ducks get caught in weeds and rocks and man-made barriers, as volunteers freed them.
The event raised over $12,000 for the Cortland Community Service Club, which stages the race every year to raise money for area youth programs. It brought in $24,000 before prize money and expenses were subtracted.
Five people won $25 each, nine people won $100 each and Ben Field, with his duck named Big Dog, got the $2,500 first-place finish.
Field bought the ticket for the duck from Doug Gilbert, whom he has known since Little League days in Homer and with whom he works at Suit-Kote Corp. in Cortlandville. The two graduated together from Homer High School in 1978.
“I buy a ticket from him every year and I think he throws it (the duck) in the weeds,” Field joked as Gilbert slapped his shoulder.
Field, who lives in Cortland, said he would put the money in his savings account.
The annual race is held on the same day as the Kentucky Derby. Trumpet player Dick Martin first played “To the Colors,” the tune that signals horses to get to their start gates in a horse race, then he played “First Call,” the tune that starts the race.
The ducks were caught in a screen chute at the end of the race, by a bridge into the park, and a gate made from a milk crate allowed one through at a time as they floated. The first 15 won money prizes.
Counting prize money, the race has brought in $125,000 the past seven years.
The event raises more money than most because there are few expenses besides the prize money, said Don Reed, who coordinated the prizes. The organization rented ducks from the Auburn YMCA in the early years of the event, but has since purchased 6,000 ducks of its own.
The race was first held on the Tioughnioga River, but that was too wide and fast-flowing, said Mike Swartwout, a volunteer whose father, Bob, chaired the event for many years.
“Dad recruited me to work the finish line every year, so these guys called me back,” Swartwout said. “The Tioughnioga seemed like a good place to have it at first, but we were chasing ducks for hours. The creek works better.”
Before most people arrived, a female duck swam down the creek, trailed by 12 ducklings.
“Isn’t that an awesome sight,” Swartwout said.
The Cortland High School girls’ lacrosse team raised $1,000 for itself by selling tickets.
Chris Ryan has been chair for seven years. His parents sold food and his son Andrew, 9, helped with the race.
At the finish area, about 20 volunteers scooped the ducks from the water with nets and put them in crates, to be stored for next year.
Scott and Crystal Gilmore of Cortland brought their daughter Marissa, 8, to the derby and purchased tickets for three ducks.
“The money from this stays right here,” Scott Gilmore said.
“This supports athletics, and someday Marissa will be competing,” his wife said. “She plays soccer. We come because it’s nice to socialize. It’s now tradition for us.”
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