465 turtles vie for glory in annual Shore sprint Great N. American race a benefit for fire company

August 19, 1996|By Dail Willis | Dail Willis,SUN STAFF

BIVALVE -- The 18th annual Great North American Turtle Race drew a turtle from Florida and a 12-year-old contestant from Wyoming to this Wicomico hamlet yesterday. But the sweltering day -- and the biggest trophy -- belonged to the natives.

Twelve-year-old Artie Abbott of Delmar and turtle No. 213 -- a Nanticoke River resident -- outpaced 464 other turtles to take top honors.

"I'm smaller than the trophy!" said a beaming Artie after the race. A quick comparison showed he was taller, but just barely.

Artie and his mother were among about 4,000 people who flocked to Cedar Hill Park and Marina for a day of festivities to raise money for the West Side Fire Department.

The volunteer fire company serves the Wicomico towns of Bivalve, Tyaskin, Jesterville, Nanticoke, Wetipquin, Waterview, Royal Oak and Whitehaven. Proceeds from the event, expected to clear about $12,000, will go toward a rescue engine purchased last year.

"Four hundred and sixty-five turtles -- our best year ever," said fire company President Ed Larmore.

Participants could bring their own turtle, as runner-up Bruce Roberts of Delmar, winner of the adult division, did. Roberts found the hefty entrant on the road last week. Or, like Artie, they could pay $2 for a Fire Department turtle. Fire Department turtles were returned to their natural habitat after racing.

The races began at 3: 30 p.m. A crowd gathered behind the ropes enclosing two concentric circles painted on the pavement. Fire Department volunteers hosed down the pavement amid cries of "Squirt us!" from the sweaty crowd.

A "bottomless tub" was put in a smaller circle and 20 turtles went inside for each heat. When the tub was lifted, the first turtle to cross the second, larger circle, advanced to the finals.

"Mine's fast," said a confident Curtis Scott, 7, of Tyaskin. Curtis, his sister, Leslie, 11, and a cousin, Mike, 14, together had two turtles entered. Like many young contestants, they cooled off their entrants with a water pistol.

Next to them stood Casey Utz, 12, of Thayne, Wyo. She had come with her grandparents, John and Sherry Utz of Hebron. The Utzes had high hopes -- he won in 1994 and she was runner-up last year.

"I'm a good judge of turtle flesh," John Utz joked.

But the best part of the race was its unpredictability, said Steve Twilley, who was selling tickets for a Ducks Unlimited raffle. "Nobody can cheat -- how can you talk to a turtle?"

Pub Date: 8/19/96

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