Tonawanda News — Forty-eight babies braved the rain Thursday for Canal Fest’s annual Diaper Derby crawling competition.
“There’s no way to practice this,” Mary Beth Kupiec, an organizer of the event from DeGraff Memorial Hospital, said. “You put the baby down, and they react to the noise, the crowd. You can’t do that at home.”
Seems like derby winner Kurt Davidson knew what he was doing, though.
The 13-month-old from North Tonawanda was the fastest crawler in both his preliminary and semifinal rounds, and advanced to the finals where he won his parents a $100 gift card.
“Our strategy was putting the grandfather on the other side,” Kurt’s father, Mike, said. “He went right to him.”
Per Diaper Derby tradition, one parent sets the baby down for the “launch,” while another family member coaxes the tot to the finish line with an irresistible item — a cell phone, food and keys were popular choices. Often the diapered contestants are more tempted by strangers’ items than their own, though, and quickly veer off course toward another parent, ruining their chances at a win.
That’s exactly what Kurt did, when he got distracted by another parent’s tablet device. He came close to giving up his 1st place finish, but Grandpa’s embrace beat out technology in the end.
The derby was sponsored by DeGraff Memorial Hospital and Tonawanda Pediatrics this year. It remains a popular Canal Fest attraction, with the event dating back to the early days of the event.
“I got a call from a 27-year-old mother who registered her baby for this year,” Kupiec said. “The mother, Katie Schultz, said she took part herself — so it goes back at least 26 years.”
Schultz has lived in the city all her life and is now raising her derby star, Juliana, there. The 11-month-old lost to Kurt when he cut her off in the dramatic semifinal.
“It’s just a cute event,” Kupiec said. “Some parents dress up their babies in costumes, or write something funny on their diaper. People get really excited about it.”
Maryalice Demler, Channel 2 news anchor and NT native, was the event’s emcee — a job she has performed for about 10 years. Demler said she participates to support DeGraff Hospital, where she worked in the late ‘80s.
“I do anything I can to support them. They have exemplary care. It’s where I was born, and where I go for every injury I have had,” Demler said. “And you just can’t mess this event up, the kids are adorable.”
Demler announced the names of the contestants and started them with a “1, 2, 3, go,” but many babies ignored Demler’s advice. Instead, contestants started crying, laid down on the carpet for a rest, or smiled at the crowd. Meanwhile, some competitive fathers of the idle crawlers grew restless rather quickly — urging the tots along with a push or yelling at mom to keep playing with the keys.
“I should have been the launcher,” one grandmother said. “Dad just gets too excited.”
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.