October 23, 2021

6,000 hopefuls, 1 lucky duck

Crowd cheers on 23rd annual Corn Ducky Derby

Travis Dunn/contributing photographer

Cortland Community Service Club members release the ducks at the 23rd Annual Corn Ducky Derby held Saturday morning at Suggett Park.

Dozens of onlookers gathered at Suggett Park at the Hamlin Street Bridge at 11 a.m. Saturday morning to watch the annual running of the ducks. Volunteers dumped the ducks from their containment pen and lifted the dam that held them back. Then they were off, all 6,000 of them, and the 23rd annual Corn Ducky Derby had begun.

Mark Pastor of Watertown brought three of his four kids to the event.

He and his girlfriend, Lori West of Homer, bought eight ducks — two for each of Pastor’s kids, and two for West’s daughter. They didn’t win, but they were all having a good time.

“The kids had a blast, especially the younger kids,” Pastor said.

For any confused weekend motorist wandering off Interstate 81, the spectacle of a crowd gathering to watch 6,000 rubber ducks float down Dry Creek might require some explanation.

The event, organized by the Cortland Community Service Club, is a fundraiser for youth organizations in and around Cortland. The participating groups that sell ducks for the race get 50 percent of the proceeds. More than 200 people attended this year’s race.

Each duck sells for $5, and gives the buyer a shot at winning cash prizes. This year, the first place winner, Denise Nye, won $2,500. And unlike the Kentucky Derby, her entry wasn’t disqualified.

The derby was the brainchild of the late Bob Swartwout, who heard of a charity rubber duck race years ago and decided to bring the idea back to Cortland. Somehow that got mixed up with the weekend of the Kentucky Derby, and the “Corn” got thrown in because the idea “was kind of corny,” said Tom Dumas, secretary of the Cortland Community Service Club, who was the man behind the megaphone Saturday.

Dumas said the event has raised more than $304,000 over the past 15 years, and raised at least $30,000 this year.

A competition was also held for the various decorative floats set up along the racecourse. The first place float was built by a team named Hope Bridge/May the Fourth Be With You.

Nearby, vendors were set up in the park as part of Paint the Town Purple, which raises money for the Relay for Life. The two groups teamed up five years ago, said volunteer Christine Bowers.