Following days of rain and a swollen, rushing Pootatuck River — and even hopes by Friday, May 24, that The 13th Annual Great Pootatuck Duck Race would go onas planned — Newtown Lions Club members on May 25 made the difficult decision to change their plans for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.
Rather than floating plastic ducks along the river and fishing the winners from a collection point downstream, Duck Race Chairman Bob Schmidt spun tickets in a raffle wheel mid-Saturday afternoon.
The Duck Race Committee had announced on Friday their intentions to continue with the race, rain or shine. By Saturday morning, however, Mr Schmidt had to announce that he and the event committee had “made a difficult but sensible decision to cancel the Duck Race and all of the included events. The ground is wet and slippery and the rain is predicted to continue all day. It would not be safe for people to be walking around on the wet grass.”
Opting for a raffle rather than dropping ducks into the water, he said, “We came to the conclusion that the current is so strong that the ducks could just pass by the collection system and we would not be able to select the winners in a fair way.”
He also worried about the safety of those who go into the river to collect ducks from the water after the first 20 winning ducks make their way into the collection tube.
“We were also concerned that the River Crew who sets up the collecting system and then collects the ducks could be seriously injured by the strong currents,” Mr Schmidt said.
On Tuesday, Mr Schmidt clarified the reasoning behind the club’s decision to move forward with the raffle drawings on Saturday rather than postpone the event to another day.
“We figured it was better to do the drawings at the same place and time [that had been announced], which would keep us in meeting the regulations of the state,” he said. The club has always been very careful with its Duck Race, making sure to follow every rule of the law. Permits for the Duck Race raffle tickets have always been through the Connecticut Division of Special Revenue — Charitable Games.
There have never been rain dates for the Duck Race and until this year, there had never been a need to cancel the exhibitions, vendors, live entertainment, and food tents that are presented in the hours leading up to the dumping of the ducks into the river.
“A different time, I think, would have caused more problems,” Mr Schmidt said. All of the vendors, exhibitors, and performers would have had to reschedule, or not participate, on a rain date. Insurance and police would have to be arranged for a second time. Even Porta-Potties would have to be arranged for a second time.
“This really was a worse case scenario,” Lions Club President Ray Keegan said on Tuesday. “I was watching the wind, and those torrential rains. Those vendors never would have been able to set their tents up.”
“A lot of people made plans,” he continued. “We know that. But I’m happy with our decision. It was the right one.”
‘We’ll Still Have Winners’
Even with the cancellation notice going out a few hours earlier, by 2:30 Saturday afternoon, members of the Lions Club were joined by a small collective of residents in the park at 5 Glen Road. They gathered at the pavilion, where raffle tickets were drawn.
As Lions Club member Walt Schweikert said as the raffle began, “We’ll still have our winners.”
Roughly 30 parents and children in raincoats and carrying umbrellas crowded beneath a small canopy, which shielded them from some of the afternoon’s frigid rain.
Normally, the race day fills the lawn with vendors, craft booths, baked goods, face painting, and other activities, drawing as many as 2,000 attendees. Glancing at the much smaller, huddled group, Mr Schweikert said, “People came, even in the rain.” Some of those people were still looking to buy last-minute tickets.
Among those bundled in slick rain gear was Isabella Ligouri, 3, clutching a stuffed toy duck. Her mother Tammy Ligouri has been to seven duck races. She looks forward to it each year “like Christmas,” she said. “I love it, even in the rain.”
Kevin Corey, another Lions Club member who helps with the event each year, watched the sea of umbrellas squeeze closer as Mr Schmidt announced: “One more minute to go,” until volunteers drew tickets from the wheel.
Lucia Rodriguez — the first of many children stepping up to pull a ticket — reached inside the wheel. Twenty prizes were up for grabs this year, the biggest one being a $2,000 cash prize. K.C. Miklasczewski was this year’s grand prize winner.
As the river surged past and rain continued, Mr Schmidt soon announced the last prize. He contacted all of the winners by Saturday night.
Thanking guests one last time, he said, “Pray for sunshine next year.”
2013 Duck Race Prize Winners
First place, $2,000 cash prize: K.C. Miklasczewski, Boston;
Second, weekend getaway ($250 Sheraton Hotel gift certificate, $200 TicketMaster gift certificate, and $150 American Express Gift Cheque): J. Dachenhausen, Sandy Hook;
Third, $500 gift certificate to Sal e Pepe Restaurant: Rafel Sgammato, Sandy Hook;
Fourth, Club NewFit for four month membership: Bill Raymond, Brookfield;
Fifth, Club NewFit for four month membership: Susan Feller, Monroe;
Sixth, season family pass to Treadwell Park: Jim Hawley, Brookfield;
Seventh, $100 gift certificate to Gary’s Rib House: Gail Mazzone, Westbrook, Maine;
Eighth, $100 gift certificate to figs: Ali DeWolfe, Sandy Hook;
Ninth, $100 gift certificate to Salon Michelle: Larry Goldman, Sandy Hook;
Tenth, $80 gift certificate to Sal e Pepe: Tom Kurien, Newtown;
11th, $50 gift certificate to Carminuccio’s Pizza: Sarah Perez, Greenwich;
12th, $50 gift certificate to Berkshire Motors: Elizabeth McLaughlin, Washington, D.C.;
13th, $50 gift certificate to Tambascio’s Italian Grill: Debbie Stakel, Sandy Hook;
14th, $50 gift certificate to Pizza Palace Restaurant: Stephanie Burns, Sandy Hook;
15th, $42 gift certificate to Naser’s Salon: Suzen Stewart, Sandy Hook;
16th, two tickets to any show at The Little Theater: Stephanie Helstern, Newtown;
17th, one-year subscription or renewal to The Newtown Bee: Kate Orlance, Newtown;
18th, $25 gift certificate to Roberto’s Restaurant: Bill Brett, Newtown;
19th, $25 gift certificate to My Place Restaurant: S. Potter, Newtown;
20th, ten movie passed for Edmond Town Hall Theatre: Loreen Bradley, Bethel.