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Cardboard sled derby teams think outside the box

February 25, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - One by one, they slipped and spun down the snowy slope like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on ice.

A giant guitar. A video game controller. A pirate ship. A tank.

From the sidelines, a crowd cheered and snapped photos. At the bottom, less lucky participants dizzily untangled limbs from wads of cardboard and duct tape. But then, at the Wild & Wacky Cardboard Sled Derby, getting down in one piece isn't always a priority.

The event, in its fifth year, is a fundraiser for Cedar Ridge Adventures, a ropes course run by Cedar Ridge Ministries of Williamsport. It was held at Whitetail Resort in Mercersburg, where, each year, staff reserve two of the 10 groomed Adventure Snow Tubing lanes for the wacky homemade sleds.

Teams paid $15 or $20 to enter creations built of cardboard, tape, glue and paint, and to vie for prizes in categories such as "most original design," "fastest vessel" and "best of show."

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"It's a real family gathering, which is what Cedar Ridge is all about," said Beth Schroyer, executive assistant for Cedar Ridge Children's Home.

The time spent together as a family building the sled was the main draw for Dwaine Landis, 31, of Greencastle, Pa., who put close to 40 hours into helping construct a cardboard snowmobile for his son DeVon, 7, to race down the hill.

Removing his racing helmet, the grinning snowmobile pilot said the ride was faster than he expected.

"It also seemed nicer than I expected," DeVon said. "I was actually kind of scared. I had seen most of the other ones crash."

The snowmobile, which had a built-in steering system, made it down the hill without a hitch and came in second place for "most creative/colorful."

The official crowd favorite, a giant cardboard tank built by the Paylors of Hancock (team name "Getting Tanked"), didn't fare as well.

"We flipped right away," said 9-year-old rider Katelyn Paylor. Still, the team proudly displayed its second-place ribbon in the "best of show" category.

First place in that category went to "If I Only Had A Slor," a team of five-year sled derby veterans so devoted they wore matching T-shirts printed with their team name.

What exactly is a slor? It changes from year to year, this time taking the form of a rhino-like creature under a giant flowering plant. But in general it is any outlandish and ridiculous cardboard sled, a creation built to inspire people to "go big or go home," said team member Dustin Showalter, 25, who lives north of Hagerstown.

Other teams opted for speed over style. A science club from Hagerstown Community College consulted a physics professor for advice on aerodynamics, while team members from Christian and Missionary Alliance in Chambersburg relied on past experience.

The team, entering for its third year, modeled its toboggan-like "Mission Impossible" sled after past years' winners and used waterproof aluminum foil tape after seeing it used successfully in the past.

"We always crashed every year, so this year we're not crashing," said Marcus Elbel, 16, of Chambersburg.

The team's time put it in the elite top-10 group that got to participate in a second round to determine the fastest sled, but that honor went to a low-lying futuristic-looking creation that made it down in less than 12 seconds.

A total of 56 teams participated in the derby.

In previous years, the event has raised $4,000 to $5,000 through registration fees, event sponsorship, team fundraising and race-day fundraisers such as a silent auction, organizers said.

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