By Marlana Ward
The stands were packed, and crowds lined the Ralph Stout Park pavilion as the Lions Club hosted its 15th annual Turtle Derby on Friday, May 25. The park was filled with roars of applause as those in attendance cheered on their favorite amphibious athletes. The track was prepped and primed for the race as the day’s shelled heroes waited their turn to show their endurance and speed. Each race featured ten tiny racers who were sponsored by local businesses who hoped their turtle would bring pride and prestige to their name. The sponsors were not limited to the Mountain City area as businesses from across state lines seized the opportunity to be included in the annual event.
As the turtle handlers brought the contestants to the starting line, fans in attendance began discussing what made their turtle the favorite for each heat. The handlers had to restrain the rambunctious reptiles until the starting call was made and the race began. Children at the finish line jumped and shouted to give their turtle extra encouragement and motivation to cross the line first. The crowd’s energy was high and obviously gave the racers added inspiration to do their best.Thirteen heats were held to determine the fastest turtles. The quickest heat was concluded in the blistering time of only twenty-eight seconds while the slowest heat was completed in over six minutes. No matter if the heat was one of the quickest or a bit slower, the crowd happily cheered.
For the final, championship race, the then fastest turtles were brought to the lanes. The racers were anxious to start and eagerly awaited the chance to scamper down to victory. Race emcee and Lions Club President Kevin Parsons introduced each returning contestant and got the crowd ready to cheer louder than ever to ensure a memorable finish. The shout to start was given, and the turtles began their race to destiny. Though it was the closest race of the evening, Otis, the turtle sponsored by Suba’s, broke his own personal record to win the race with a time of twenty-seven seconds.
The Turtle Derby is the Lions Club’s largest fundraiser of the year and the most anticipated by the local public. This year’s event included sponsors from not only Mountain City but from Zionville, NC and Damascus, VA as well. More than $3,500 was raised for the organization, which will go to help families in Johnson County with vision problems.
In addition to the sponsorship of the turtles, area businesses also supported the event by providing door prizes, which were awarded throughout the game. The most substantial prizes of the evening were two bicycles supplied by Joe Herman of Danny Herman Trucking that was won by two lucky kids at the end of the derby.
The Lions Club seeks to help individuals who are in need of vision care and corrective lenses but are unable to afford vision tests or glasses. In addition to the derby, the club also raises funds by selling high-quality brooms and mops, which are sought after by many each year. The club also receives funds for their work setting out the American flags, which line the town streets on important holidays such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
The Johnson County Lions Club meets on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at Lois’s Country Cafe at 7 pm. Anyone interested in learning more about the Lions Club may call 727-8817 or 727-4119 for more information.