Leader of the Pack
It was any turtle's race at the Lamar County Fairgrounds Saturday afternoon until midway through the course when one speedy fellow broke away from the pack and went on to win the 2007 Great Paris Turtle Race.

Move aside, rubber duckies; it’s time for the rubber turtles to take Paris by storm.

Rubber turtles will be all the rage for the 17th annual Johnny Stallings Memorial Great Paris Turtle Float, benefiting the Boys & Girls Club of the Red River Valley. The race is scheduled for 10 a.m. July 25, and it will take place at the Love Civic Center.

The Great Turtle Float honors John Mark Stallings, the late son of famed football coach Gene Stallings. John Mark was a down syndrome youngster who became a well-known figure along the sidelines of Alabama football games when his father was the head coach there.

“This is a big day for us,” Boys & Girls Club executive director Jason Macchia said. “It’s basically 10% of our annual budget in a single day and it’s really what keeps a number of our programs going.”

The club has a fundraising goal of $50,000, and Macchia said they usually hit their goal.

Money made through the fundraiser will go toward the day-to-day operations of the club, which provides local children with after-school programs and activities.

Each year, the local organization races approximately 5,000 rubber turtles through the trench in front of the civic center, and people are able to sponsor turtles to support the nonprofit.

“The whole race takes just about two or three minutes, but it’s a fun little event and it’s always a good time,” Macchia said.

People may sign up to sponsor turtles the day of the event, but Macchia said he’d rather people call the club in advance at 903-784-6360.

The cost to sponsor a single turtle is $10, while a “herd” of turtles — comprised of 11 turtles — is $100, Macchia said.

Cash prizes will be given for turtles that do well, various turtles selected at random and the turtle that comes in last place, Macchia said. Macchia said people don’t need to attend the race if they don’t want to or are unable to, as the Boys & Girls Club will take sponsors’ contact information when they call to sponsor the turtles.

“It’s a really fun time, and it’s all for a good cause,” Macchia said. “Every day, there are hundreds of local kids looking for a place to be, and Boys & Girls Club fills that role in the community. And we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the turtle float.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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