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Thrills and bills: Duck Derby raises funds with lake fun
Charity event draws in nearly $89,000 for Boys and Girls Clubs
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A Marine Specialties Inc. barge gets into position as visitors gather Saturday on the shore at Clarks Bridge Park during the 11th annual Rubber Duck Derby benefitting the Boys and Girls Club of Hall County. The barge is used to dump the thousands of rubber ducks into the course.

It was anybody's race with 10 feet to go.

In a Rubber Duck Derby that started with 16,000 toy ducks fanned out 100 abreast on Lake Lanier, the field had narrowed to a four-wide free-for-all as they approached the finish chute.

"That duck just cut in front of him," one child remarked from the shore at Clarks Bridge Park, where hundreds looked on to see which duck would make one lucky duck derby contestant $10,000 richer.

"Somebody's about to win," said another boy.

At exactly 2:06 p.m., Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic reached into the chute and plucked out the winning duck, an orange-billed, sunglasses-wearing waterfowl that floated to victory with a time of 37 minutes, 12 seconds, despite some close scrapes in the final five feet.

"I saw a lot of rubbing out there at the end," Cronic said later. "Of course, rubbing is racing."

The 11th annual Boys and Girls Club of Hall County Rubber Duck Derby raised close to $89,000 for the local club, which serves some 4,000 children each year.

The grand prize for the club's biggest fundraiser was made possible by a cash donation of $10,000 from a former board member, with Gainesville Jewelry donating the first-place prize: a one-carat diamond ring. Lake Lanier Islands and Best Buy contributed the second and third-place prizes.

Grand prize winner Candice Byrd, who was not present for her duck's dramatic win, may never know the identity of the person who donated her winnings. The donation was made anonymously.

"It's only because of people like that that we're able to continue with the activities we do," said Joe Ethier, executive director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Hall County.

Ethier pointed out the variety of booths and activities set up for the derby Saturday, from $2 ice cream to aerobics classes. More than 140 people volunteered for the day.

"It's become a community event that brings so many different partners together," Joe said. "By supporting our duck derby, it helps ensure that we can continue these important programs that serve boys and girls."

One group new to the event was the Latino Advisory Council, which has a vested interest in seeing that Hall County's significant Hispanic population benefits from the Boys and Girls Clubs.

Ground has been broken for a new club behind Lyman Hall Elementary in a majority-Hispanic neighborhood.

"It will help the children to keep off of drugs and have respect for their parents," said council member Jose Luiz Diaz, who in his taxi business often sees children playing unsupervised outside their homes. "The parents won't have to worry because they know they will be in good hands."

Cronic knows that organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs pay dividends down the road, reducing the number of people who end up in gangs, on drugs or in jail as teens and young adults.

"It helps an awful lot of our at-risk kids," he said.

Ethier said one measure of the club's success is the 100 percent graduation rate of club members in this year's high school senior classes. All are were accepted to college.

"Our programs work, and it's the individuals who see their value and invest in the future of Hall County who make it possible for us to continue them," Ethier said.

As for the ducks, "we're going to have to get them in better shape for next year," Cronic said. "A lot of them were dying out at the end."

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