Tonawanda News — Jackson Lalewicz, 1 1/2, turned slowly around in the Raindrop Pool at Payne Park in North Tonawanda, eyes wide, hand outstretched to point.
“Fishy!” he said. “Fishy! Fishy! Fishy!”
Jackson was one of the hundreds of children taking part in one of North Tonawanda’s quirkier summer traditions Wednesday, at the annual Goldfish Dive took place at the pool.
Children and adults lined up nearly back to the park’s pavilion for a turn to wade into the pool, which had been emptied, refilled partway with non-chlorinated water and stocked with about 1,000 “feeder” goldfish. Once a fish was successfully scooped up in a plastic cup, city recreation employees helped get them safely into bags to travel to their new homes.
Alex Domaradzki, youth coordinator at the North Tonawanda Department of Youth, Recreation and Parks, said that the event has taken place for about 10 years. Some participants have fish that have survived as family pets for years, he said.
Children, instructed to shuffle slowly through the water so as not to harm the fish, scooped and squealed and cheered when one was captured. Jackson’s brother Connor Lalewicz, 4, carefully peered into the water, scooping several times before successfully catching an orange specimen.
“What are you going to name him?” his mother, Danelle Lalewicz, asked. “Goldy,” was the inevitable reply.
Danelle Lalewicz, who was at the event with Jackson, Connor and Emily, 6, said this is the first time they’ve taken part in the event.
“They were excited about this,” she said. “They’ve been wanting fish. This is more fun than going to the pet store.”
Unclaimed fish were returned to the pet store from whence they came or given another new home. While there have been occasional claims of animal cruelty because of the event, Domaradzki said, the fish were originally destined to be “feeders” — and would have ended up becoming a bigger fish’s dinner.
“In a way,” he said, “we’re giving them a good chance.”