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Take a quack at winning a truck

Is it a sport? Is it a fundraiser? Is it both?

Is it gambling at its highest and best level? Is it a donation that is tax deductible or, as someone once said, tax de-duck-tible?

It's probably not a sport. It is, indeed, a fundraising event. It is gambling, and it is a donation that is tax deductible.

Of course, I am writing about the Great Olympic Peninsula Duck Derby that takes place at noon Sunday, May 17, at the Nippon Paper Industries canal near the foot of Ediz Hook in Port Angeles.

For those who have moved to Sequim recently or have been under a rock in the Olympics for 19 years, this is the 20th duck event. It started as a little Olympic Medical Center Foundation fundraiser in pouring rain on the Dungeness River one May afternoon and has grown from 13,251 ducks to 36,660 in the 2008 race, a super new record.

Foundation director Bruce Skinner brought this event to Port Angeles and Sequim when he took over as director, having known the originator of the outfit that leases out those cute little plastic ducks.

The first duck races were in the Phoenix, Ariz., area. When Skinner brought the idea to Port Angeles, it started as the Great Dungeness Duck Derby. Skinner, Rand Thomas, George Gurr, Bub and Alice Olsen, members of Rotary, and hospital officials got the foundation started and were not sure how it would go over.

Now, there are 105 duck races, 101 in the United States, plus one each in Dubai, Germany, Puerto Rico and Canada.

The first race on the Dungeness River was conducted around noon on a stormy, rainy, windy Sunday. Ducks were put in a giant net, hoisted by a crane over the fast-rushing river, which had been running rather placidly when the ducks were tested a couple of days earlier.

During the test drop, the ducks floated nicely under the bridge by the Old Dungeness Schoolhouse and were captured in nets. However, after an overnight deluge, the river was up about 5 feet on race day, and the dropped ducks shot downstream as if they were in a hurricane. Ducks still are floating around below the schoolhouse, I think.

It was over in a matter of minutes. Needless to say, the beer garden and special events were a disaster.

The second race was held at Carrie Blake Park. Ducks were tested beforehand by being dropped into the big pond. They floated gently from there down the little stream and were captured by the main clubhouse. The day of the race? The wind was blowing from the east so the ducks had to be dumped right into the stream. That race also was over in minutes.

The event was moved to Port Angeles where a canal runs from saltwater, under the Ediz Hook roadway near the mill, and into what was the log-holding pond.

The past 18 events have gone off without a hitch as the ducks are dumped into the canal that runs with the tide. We've seen just only one mishap on this course, when the wind turned one Sunday and blew the ducks into the harbor.

It took a couple of days to round up the little yellow bobbers.

The event has grown beyond imagination. The sales have gone up all but two years, going from 31,789 in 2005 to 30,566 in 2006 and then back up to 35,767 in 2007 to a whopping 36,660 last year.

How has it grown? Skinner and Co. enlisted the help of hundreds of volunteers to sell duck sponsorships so each $5 donation for a duck goes to the foundation. Expenses are taken out of corporate sponsor fees and every donation is tax deductible.

Money raised goes to Olympic Medical Center and funds items that are not on the hospital "to buy" list, same as the Festival of Trees event and the new Hollywood Nights event put on by the foundation.

Dan Wilder of Wilder Auto Center has donated a truck as the top prize for 20 years - and the Wilders do, indeed, donate the truck as Toyota does not help them with the cost. That is their dedication to the Port Angeles/Sequim area.

With 45 prizes for this year's event, ducks are selling like hotcakes slathered in butter and syrup and all is ready.

The Very Important Duck race, for those who purchase packages valued at $250 and $500, will start at 11:30 a.m. Sunday. The main race begins at noon and, as always, the race will be broadcast live on Radio KONP (1450 AM; 102.1 FM) by the most experienced duck derby broadcasting crew in the entire world.

That's because KONP is the only radio station crazy enough to broadcast, live, a duck race on a canal in Port Angeles.

See you at the base of Ediz Hook at noon Sunday.



Scooter Chapman's column regularly appears on the Sequim Gazette Sports/Schools page. He can be reached by e-mail at scooter@olypen.com



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