The Johnson City Lions Club kicked off its 59th annual Turtle Derby campaign this week with a preview of plans for this year’s derby, coming up Oct. 14 at East Tennessee State University’s Brooks Gym.
The club members will spend the next six weeks hawking their electronic racing turtles to area businesses whose $50 sponsorships help the Lions raise about $20,000 annually for eyeglasses and hearing aids for people in need, vision screenings for preschoolers, employment and job training for the blind and visually impaired and more.
The Lions’ battery-powered turtles made their debut at last year’s Derby and, for the first time in many years, allowed the event’s young “turtle jockeys” to handle the turtles, something that had long been prohibited because of the risk of disease associated with touching live turtles.
“The Turtle Derby is our biggest fundraiser of the year and it has a lot of long-standing traditions,” club member Steve Campbell said.
For anyone who’s never attended, Campbell said, “admission is free and everyone who comes in is given a ticket that’s matched to a turtle. They hold that ticket until that turtle wins. Then they bring the ticket to us and we figure the odds of that particular turtle winning and determine the amount of the prize we give them.”
Prizes range from $2 to $3 to $20 or $30. And in the end, almost every turtle will eventually win a race. “It excites the kids who take the money straight to our concession stands. They have a good time with it, and parents have a good time too.”
But the best thing about the Derby, Campbell said, are the Lions’ projects it supports. Proceeds from the event help provide glasses, hearing aids and exams to children, adults and seniors in need; support for the Lions Volunteer Blind Industries’ manufacturing plants and job-training centers in Johnson City and Morristown; the Tennessee Lions Children’s Eye Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville; the Lions statewide Kids Sight network that last year provided free vision screening for 38,000 preschoolers; and scholarships to East Tennessee State University, Milligan College and Northeast State Community College for students pursuing for careers in vision and hearing conservation.
“For a small investment of $50, community leaders will be doing a great good for our community while receiving meaningful advertising for their companies,” Turtle Derby Publicity Chairman Don Raines said.
For more information about the Derby or how become a turtle sponsor, visit http://johnsoncity.tnlions.org or call Raines at 791-9191.