Sunday, July 22, 2007

Local Soap Box Derby champs highlight need

Guess there really is home field advantage, even in soap box derby racing. Yesterday, 13-year-old Tyler Shoff of Akron and 14-year-old Dennis VanFossen Jr. of Barberton each took first place in the All-American Soap Box Derby. They're both just great kids.

I've gotten to know both of their families as we crossed paths at Derby Downs over the last few years. Dennis' father sits on the Akron Local's Board of Directors and volunteers a lot of hours at the track. He also is quick to help others overcome challenges with their cars. In fact when I was first putting together a car for my oldest son, Josh, Dennis Sr. came over to my home and helped me get the right bolts and nuts in the right places.

I have a great picture of Tyler and my middle son, Jacob. Tyler beat Jacob in the finals of the Akron Local in June. The two actually split their races in the final, each beating the other once, but Tyler won by a larger margin (one-tenth of a second) and advanced to the All-American as the Akron Local champ. Jake is sooooooo thrilled for Tyler today. She has a number of relatives who also race, so her family members are regulars at the track.

Even with yesterday's big wins for our local kids, I'm still pained that we don't have more boys and girls taking part in soap box derby racing in this town. Consider this. We have 25,000 students in the Akron Public Schools alone and yet only 34 kids entered the Akron Metro races this year.

Decades ago, more than 500 Akron kids would turn out and thousands would come to watch. Those were the days when kids built their cars from any scrap metal and tires they could find. Today's cars come in kits, and you don't have to be a grease monkey or NASCAR expert to put them together. There are even used cars available to defray the initial cost, so why can't we get more kids and their parents involved?

Trust me, you'll never meet a kid in this town who wouldn't want to go down the hill. We just have to find a way to get more of them to the top of it.

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