“Go, go, go!” children and adults shouted at the 3,500 rubber ducks that bobbed their way down West Gwinnett Park Aquatic Center’s lazy river, willing the bath toys to pick up their speed.
Pointing and smiling at one another, for about 10 minutes Saturday afternoon — though the race seemed longer than that — everyone’s attention at the aquatic center turned to the ducks, the Rotary Club of Sugarloaf’s annual signature fundraising event: the Gwinnett Duck Derby.
The event, which is now in its fourth year, raises money for the club’s local and international programs for children and youth.
The Sugarloaf Rotary Club, which was founded in 1982, is part of Rotary International and is known for its service to the community and support for such organizations as the Lawrenceville Boys and Girls Club, Corley Elementary School and the Brookwood High School Interact Club.
While the event benefits those organizations, it also brings together community members who might not otherwise interact, said Duck Derby Chairman Scott LeCraw, who also answers to “Duck Commander” and “Head Duck Wrangler.”
“It’s a fun event,” LeCraw said. “We used to do our main fundraising event as a golf tournament, but every rotary club does golf tournaments and every nonprofit does golf tournaments. They’re a lot of work and they’re fun, but everyone does it, so we came across this thing, and it’s now our fourth year doing it. It’s just a lot more fun and has been very successful.”
The derby has grown each year, LeCraw said, and this year, the club got even more exposure during its event.
“For the past three years, we’ve been doing it the weekend after the pool closed for the season,” he said. “This year, we decided to do it where we took over the pool at 3 o’clock. We’ve always wanted this to be a community event and bring some of the community in, so there’s a lot more participation this year than in previous years.”
There were also more ducks this year, LeCraw said.
“We’re going to make about $17,000, and that’s a little bit more than we’ve made in previous years,” he said. “Every year we’re stepping up each year. We could have put more ducks in the water, but I had to make a decision at 5 p.m. (Friday) how many we were going to do, and then we’ve got a bunch of sales in the last 12 hours. Next year, we’ll aim to have 4,000 ducks in the water.”
The ducks, which are numbered, come in various-priced packages.
A single duck costs $5, a bevy of ducks (five total) costs $20, a flock of ducks (13 ducks) costs $50 and a company of ducks (28 ducks) costs $100.
“The best part is those ducks coming down the water slide,” LeCraw said. “It’s so childish — it’s a bunch of ducks coming down a water slide — but it’s a blast. I also thoroughly enjoy us all getting in the water and directing the ducks. We call this the Gwinnett Duck Derby — even though we’re the Sugarloaf Rotary Club — because we really want it to be a county-wide thing.”
The event does stretch countywide when it comes to where the proceeds go, such as the Lawrenceville Boys and Girls Club, which works to “save and change the lives of children and teens.”
Rory Johnson, senior executive director of the youth club, said he is thankful for the Sugarloaf Rotary Club’s annual duck derby.
“They do an awesome job,” Johnson said. “They held us tremendously, especially with our Thanksgiving program, and I just came from our back-to-school event, and they (help) with getting supplies and different things throughout the year. That’s what unity in community is all about.”