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Akron's Soap Box Derby Hosts Young Professionals Network Luncheon

On Thursday, June 14, we attended a luncheon at the Soap Box Derby locale on George Washington Blvd. in Akron put on by the Young Professionals Network, a division of the Greater Akron Chamber of Commerce.

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We ate our lunch on a hill inside the F.A. "Whitey" Wahl Pavilion, which sheltered us from the heat of the sun but allowed us a wonderful view of the legendary track and finish line where races have been conducted since the mid-1930's. On hand were Mr. Mark Gerberich, President and CEO of the Soap Box Derby, as well as Ms. Morgan Garner, Events Director, and Ms. Heather Morrow, Program Manager, who filled us in on the history of the Soap Box Derby and the exciting programs it offers. 

As we read on a handout we were given, "the Soap Box Derby is an international nonprofit organization whose mission is to build knowledge and character, and to create meaningful experiences through collaboration and fair and honest competition.

In recent years, the Derby has initiated a STEM-based education program to assist youngsters in the building of cars and "to introduce STEM to students in an enjoyable, engaging way," according to the handout and from what Mr. Gerberich told us.

Other things we got to know about the Derby were that only boys were allowed to race until 1971, when girls were finally allowed, and that there was a scandal (that in retrospect sounds humorous) in 1973 involving an electronic magnet connected to a race car to make it go faster. Mr. Gerberich also contributed a funny but inspiring story about a 97 year-old woman who piloted a car on "Senior Day" and did quite well, only she forgot to use the brake; don't worry, she and the car were okay. 

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We learned that in the early 1970's the derby's popularity, attendance, and participation took a downward path after a major sponsor decided not to continue its support. Things were really rough for a while, but in 2011 actor/director/writer Mr. Corbin Bernsen (he played playboy attorney Arnie Becker on the TV show "L.A. Law") made a movie titled 25 Hill about the Soap Box Derby, which re-generated interest in it as an institution worth preserving.

We talked with Mr. Gerberich about the Soap Box Derby as an international institution and the countries that have taken an interest in participating in it. We learned that earlier in 2018 a partnership was established to introduce the Soap Box Derby programs to China, so we did some research and found an article on Cleveland.com, which told us that the other party in the agreement was International Resource Development, Inc., founded by Ms. Kim Kirkendall, whom we see quite frequently at Greater Cleveland Chinese Chamber of Commerce functions.

Mr. Gerberich was quoted in the article as saying that not only would International Resource Development be promoting racing in China, "but it will also help us create brand awareness, furthering the Soap Box Derby's mission by delivering our STEM-based education program and summer camps."

As for Akron, we learned that its Soap Box Derby summer camp is frequented by a young man from Japan who is very popular with his fellow competitors; so much so that a certain Friday was designated as "Japanese Day" so the racing times and instructions given were called out in an odd but effective combination of Japanese and English—which brought everyone together and made them feel even closer while having a good time.   

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

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Aimee Jannsohn