57th Turtle Derby in Lowellville kicks off during ‘Cruisin’ the River’

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A bugle blared the call to post and the evening’s jockeys readied their steeds. A moment later the racers were released into their lanes, their respective supporters banging and yelling — trying to use their own passion to propel the creatures toward the finish line.

But turtles are not easily reasoned with.

While some took heart and sprinted toward their goal, many simply withdrew into their shells and enjoyed a few moments of sunbathing during the Youngstown Lions Club’s 57th annual Turtle Derby in Lowellville on Monday night.

Each year, the derby takes place alongside the “Cruisin’ the River” Lowellville bike and car cruise in the center of the village, drawing between 250 to 300 people to watch the races and see the classic and historic cars and motorcycles. The derby is the local Lions Club’s only fundraiser, and most years generates between $25,000 and $30,000 through the sale of advertisements in the event’s program.

Kyle Miasek, a member of the Lions Club and the chairman of the turtle derby, said the money raised goes back into the community.

“We have speakers representing various organizations who come and present at our weekly meetings. We then vote on whether or not to offer donations to those groups, and through those donations we use the money from the derby to fund various local non-profits and programs,” Miasek said.

While the event raises money for a good cause, most of the younger members of the crowd — such as the children who serve as the “jockeys” for the turtles — are there to see which of the reptiles will cross the finish line first.

Many of the turtles are sponsored by local businesses, and most bear names similar to racing horses — such as “Past Presidents” or “Eye on the Prize” — while others are named after famous turtles in pop culture, including “Leonardo” or the Pokemon “Wartortle.”

Across the street from the races at Ms. Kitty and Hoot Owl’s Riverside Lounge, restaurant owner Kitty Olson and her sister Pam Talaganis sold meatball sandwiches, chili dogs and ice cream by the scoop to visitors.

“We’ve been doing food down here since the cruise started,” Olson said. “It’s very nice, it’s like doing a pool night for us. It keeps getting bigger and bigger every year.”

In addition to food, Olson is also selling shirts made by the Lowellville Business Association commemorating the car cruise and the turtle derby. This year’s design features an image of the new light poles installed in downtown Lowellville, which commemorates the village receiving a $300,000 community block grant from the federal government for downtown revitalization last year.

Taking a seat underneath one of those new light poles was Mike Volsko, of Struthers, who has been attending the turtle derby and car cruise for the past four and a half years.

Volsko comes more for the cars than the turtles, but what keeps him returning is the sense of community he feels when he attends.

“I enjoy the car show every year. I like seeing all the different cars that people bring, the food is good of course,” Volsko said, “But the thing I like most is that everyone here is like a big family. It always feels like you’re here together with everyone else.”

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