Sag Harbor Scouts Bring Back The Soap Box Derby

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By Brandon B. QuinnA once great American tradition was given new life this weekend, with local Scouts holding the 2013 Sag Harbor Soap Box Derby on High Street in front of hundreds of cheering onlookers.

With 36 cars entered by Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Girl Scout racers, the head-to-head double-elimination format race, which lasted about five hours, was preceded by a brief parade of the vehicles down Main Street.

Laurie Barone-Schaefer, a Troop Leader who help found the derby and came up with the idea for it, described the many ways such a simple event has brought the community together.

“We wanted to re-create some of the tradition and history of Sag Harbor and teach these kids about what kids used to do way back when. I think its very important that these kids have both a history of where they live as well as a connection to it in modern times,” said Ms. Barone-Schaefer. “When the kids would go into a shop and ask to be sponsored, or would go into the radio station to make the commercial for it, they were meeting community members who are institutions in this town. It was some old fashioned fun, but it was about turning Sag Harbor from a place where there house is to a home for these kids. It was amazing.”

Scouts as young as 6 and as old as 14 By Brandon B. Quinn

A once great American tradition was given new life this weekend, with local Scouts holding the 2013 Sag Harbor Soap Box Derby on High Street in front of hundreds of cheering onlookers, two distinguished military members and a few tailgating residents.

With 36 cars entered by Cub Scout, Boy Scout and Girl Scout racers, the head-to-head double-elimination format race, which lasted about five hours, was preceded by a brief parade of the vehicles down Main Street.

The idea for the renewal of some old-fashioned fun came about when Laurie Barone-Schaefer, Troop Leader of Pack 455, started considering a way to get her Scouts off their computers and out of the house.

Lamenting certain drawbacks of today’s technology, she began thinking of what children did for fun “before they could plop themselves in front of a television,” said Ms. Barone-Schaefer.

After discussing the idea of a soap box derby with some people in the community, “We found a picture dated back to 1955 or 1956, of a race held on High Street, where every car had a name and kids of all ages gathered together. Once we saw the picture, the ball started rolling,” she said.

And according to Ms. Barone-Schaefer, the usual red-tape and painstaking coordination that such an event might entail elsewhere, was non-existent.

“I don’t want to make it sound all pie in the sky,” she said, “but it really was. We’ve only come across support from the Village Board and the police and fire departments from day one. Everyone stepped up.”

Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride saw no reason for any potential obstacles. “Today was amazing. What kind of function is better to build a community on a beautiful Sunday like today?” he asked.

Bruce Stafford, a volunteer in the Sag Harbor Fire Department who acts as the liaison between the department and Troop 455, agreed in terms of the benefits for the community.

“This great event brought everyone out and together, from the building and fund-raising process to today. It is just one more event in the Village of Sag Harbor that makes this such a great place to live and bring up kids,” he said.

Ms. Barone-Schaefer, who had her two sons participate, described the many ways such a simple event has brought the community together.

“We wanted to re-create some of the tradition and history of Sag Harbor and teach these kids about what kids used to do way back when. I think its very important that these kids have both a history of where they live as well as a connection to it in modern times,” said Ms. Barone-Schaefer. “When the kids would go into a shop and ask to be sponsored, or would go into the radio station to make the commercial for it, they were meeting community members who are institutions in this town. It was some old fashioned fun, but it was about turning Sag Harbor from a place where their house is to a home for these kids.”

The Troops made sure the community was involved in other ways as well.

From the race’s inception, Ms. Barone-Schaefer made sure that Jordan Haerter, a former Sag Harbor Boy Scout in Troop 455 and a Marine who was awarded the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism after being killed at the age of 19 in Iraq on April 22, 2008, was honored.

The race was sponsored by Jordan’s Initiative, a non-profit organization formed by Christian Haerter, Jordan’s father, to help currently deployed military members, veterans and their families, as well as to support community projects such as the soap box derby.

“I went to Chris about having Jordan’s Initiative involved—I wanted to dedicate the race to Jordan. In turn for me trying to do something nice for him, this amazing man went above and beyond, went all out supporting us,” said Ms. Barone-Schaefer. “He made license plates, bumper stickers and canvas bags full of presents for all the racers. He was unbelievably gracious.”

In keeping the military theme, the race was held in honor of two active military members.

Marine Staff Sergeant and life-long Sag Harbor resident David McMahon was happy to see “a slice of Americana” back in Sag Harbor. “I love seeing some of these old traditions coming back to my old hometown,” he said.

Army Sergeant First Class Russ Littel, whose wife is from Sag Harbor, was also honored.

“This race is small-town America, man. This is what our guys are fighting for—not words you see on some coin or flag or ribbon. This is what we all do it for. It all boils down to things like today,” said Mr. Littel.

Scouts as young as 6 and as old as 14 competed in the competition, which had three different weight classes. The race involved Scouts from Pack 455, Troop 455 and Girl Scout Troops 152, 413 and 2996.

Coming in first for the stock division—up to 125 pounds, driver and car—was Charles Schaefer, followed by Bryona Hayes coming in second and Jack O’Brien coming in third.

In the super stock division—up to 150 pounds—a team of three, Troy Remkus, Truman Yardley and Jordan Reed, took first prize. They were followed by Eve Mardsen in second and Kiara Bailey Williams, who was third.

In the Mustang division—up to 225 pounds—Sage Whitty took first, followed by Andrew Schaefer in second and Jonathan Severance, who came in third.

Looking forward, a consensus in the village would like the race to be an annual event.

“Hopefully we can build on this first one and it will continue to get bigger and better for the next umpteen years,” said Mr. Stafford.

Ms. Barone-Schaefer tried to pump the brakes a little on the bigger and better, noting how amazing this year’s turnout was, but admitted it has potential to “be blown out of the water.”

“The soap box derby can become something truly special, so we need to sit down as a committee and see where we want to take this and how big it is going to get. We had it on a residential street for nostalgia, but I can’t open it up to other towns or even people outside the Scouts if it continues to be held on High Street,” she said, noting that maybe the winner could go on to larger competitions across Long Island and even the country.

But lofty decisions about the future of the race couldn’t derail the fun, even when some cars themselves went off the track.

With the high speeds (it took an average of about 20 seconds for each car to make it from the top of High Street to Bay Street) and tricky handling of the cars, built out of donated lumber from Riverhead Building Supply, there were a handful of crashes, but no injuries.

In fact, the crashes often resulted in some of the biggest smiles of the day from the kids.

“I’m really filled with so much emotion about the outcome of this thing. Amazing on so many levels. Those smiles, from the kids that crashed or from the kids who won or the ones on their faces pre-race, those smiles are the fruit of our labor,” said Ms. Barone-Schaefer. “A whole day filled with old fashioned fun in an old fashioned town. It was so Normal Rockwell.” competed in the competition, which had three different weight classes.

Coming in first for the stock division—up to 125 pounds, driver and car—was Ms. Barone-Schaefer’s son, Charles, followed by Bryona Hayes coming in second and Jack O’Brien coming in third.

In the super stock division—up to 150 pounds—a team of three, Troy Remkus, Truman Yardley and Jordan Reed, took first prize. They were followed by Eve Mardsen in second and Kiara Bailey Williams, who was third.

In the Mustang division—up to 225 pounds—Sage Whitty took first, followed by Andrew Schaefer in second and Jonathan Severance, who came in third.

Despite the high speeds and tricky handling of the cars, built out of donated lumber from Riverhead Building Supply, there were only a handful of crashes, and no injuries.

In fact, the crashes often resulted in some of the biggest smiles of the day from the kids.

“Those smiles, from the kids that crashed or from the kids who won or the ones on their faces pre-race, those smiles are the fruit of our labor,” said Ms. Barone-Schaefer.

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