Great American Duck Races: On Your Mark, Get Set….Float?

Preliminary visions of the duck races – webbed feet placed in starting blocks, feathered chests waddling towards the finish line – were
quickly dispelled as two industrial front loaders unceremoniously dumped over 13,000 rubber ducks into the mighty Rogue River. The bathtub buddies raced from the Parkway Bridge to the Caveman Bridge in approximately 45 minutes. The excitement was palpable as the duck's adoptive parents waited for the winners at Riverside Park. An estimated 500 supporters were on hand at the finish line.

The minimal cost of adopting a duck - $10.00 each – encouraged local residents to help the Rotary Clubs raise funds for a news sports facility, Morrison Centennial Park. The generous prizes were integral to the success of the events. The grand prize, $20,000 toward a car from a Grants Pass Auto Dealership went to Tina Lindall, a waitress at Galice Resort and student at Rogue Community College. She found out she was the big winner when her sister called on her cell phone. Lindall says "I was so excited, I had to pull over to the side of the road.”

An additional 14 prizes were worth an average of $1,000 each. This brought the total prize incentives for the event to more than $35,000. Gerry Watt, a Grants Pass local, bought the family package of five ducks. His purchase also came with a t-shirt, valuable coupons to local merchants and a mini version of the rubber ducky. When the voice on the other end of the phone asked for Gerald, he assumed it was a telemarketer and almost hung up. Luckily, he listened long enough to learn he'd won a home decorating package worth $1,500 at Gates Home Furnishings, a local business.

Joan Bille won a $1,000 gift basket from Gottshalks Department Store. When she found out the races were happening on her birthday, she sent her husband out to buy ducks. She says "I never win anything.” She did, however, feel lucky because of the fortuitous timing. Her husband, John, said they considered the four ducks they purchased a $40 donation to the new Sports Park. "Community support for events like the duck races is why we live here,” he said. Winning was an added bonus.

The Rogue Duck Derby presented by the Rotary Clubs of Grants Pass, Oregon capitalized on the novelty of the event. New concepts are especially important for communities inundated with requests for donations and non-stop fundraising drives. Government funds for non profits have been stretched thin and cuts to extra curricular education programs have sent parents and participating kids out to raise money for clubs and teams that were once funded by school districts.

The Great American Derby Duck Race is a fund-raising concept owned by Great American Merchandise & Events. They began staging the events in 1988 and recently added a turtle character to their lineup. The rubber racers are bar-coded for immediate identification of winners. A funnel-shaped boom is stretched across the finish line to capture the winners.

Both the duck and turtle characters are trademarked by their three inch size, sunglasses and an appropriate smile. Tim Matykiewicz, a Great American
Races representative estimates the duck and turtle races have raised over three million dollars in the last two years with more than 200 races around the world. The Great American Races concept is poised for explosive growth with successful events like the recent Grants Pass race.

Media sponsorship was crucial to the success of the event. The crowds gathered at the finish line at Riverside Park were treated to entertainment from local radio station sponsors, KAJO and KLDR. The Duck Races were also promoted by KDRV Channel 12 News and the Grants Pass Daily Courier newspaper.

Local businesses provided sponsorship on three levels: Super Duck Sponsors – Gates Home Furnishings, Premier West Bank and
Southern Oregon Sanitation. Rogue Duck Sponsors: Hellgate Excursions, Home Valley Bank and Bill Thorp/State Farm Insurance. Quacker Sponsors included 17 local businesses, national franchises and church/civic groups.

The participating Rotary Clubs are thrilled with the results. Sponsors covered most of the $40,000 costs to stage the event and plans are already underway for next year's duck races. In an interview with the Grants Pass Daily Courier, race organizer Bill Thorp said, "The community's been unbelievable, they got a chance to help kids and have some fun”!

-- DeWayne Lumpkin, Freelance Writer

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