AVOCA – Ryan Leonardo felt certain he was going to win Saturday’s Avoca Quackoff when he crossed the finish line of his second-round duck race.
The Omaha resident made good on his promise when he left the Tefft Park tennis court with the championship trophy.
Leonardo took home the top prize at the 40th annual Avoca Quackoff. He captured first place in an event that featured 351 participants and thousands of spectators. Avoca Volunteer Fire Department representatives gave him a golden trophy for his efforts in the large duck-racing contest.
“I’m so happy right now,” Leonardo said. “I can’t believe it. This is just awesome.”
Leonardo joined more than 3,000 people in Avoca for the annual celebration. Marty Brammier of the Avoca Volunteer Fire Department said the first tour bus arrived in town at 8 a.m. and dozens more streamed in over the next several hours. Cars and buses filled every street in Avoca and people congregated in Tefft Park, by the town hall and in groups by their vehicles.
“The crowd’s been very good all day,” Brammier said. “We haven’t had any problems at all, which has been really nice. Everybody’s been having a good time.”
Denver native Maddy Patten was one of the people enjoying her time in Cass County. Patten heard about the event from several friends and decided to try her hand at duck racing. She won her first-round heat and came close to advancing in the second round.
Patten said she was impressed with the people she had met in Avoca. She said she would be returning for future Quackoffs because of the kindness and generosity of area residents.
“I’m having one of the best days of my life,” Patten said. “This is so much fun. My friends invited me to come on a party bus and I wasn’t sure what it would be like, but it is so awesome. I’m really glad I came.”
Gretna resident Lillyan Zabka also had a memorable experience in her first trip to the Avoca Quackoff. Zabka is a seventh-grade student at Gretna Middle School and came to the event with her mother Jenny.
Zabka struck the jackpot when her duck won their first two rounds and then finished first in their semifinal race. She captured second place at the Quackoff and received an engraved plaque for her work.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Lillyan Zabka said. “I’ve been enjoying it.”
“When she first heard about it I don’t think she knew what it was all about, but she’s having a blast today,” Jenny Zabka said. “We’re both glad that we came. This has been a fun day.”
The Avoca Quackoff is a fund-raiser for the Avoca Volunteer Fire Department. The department uses all donations from participants and fans to purchase lifesaving firefighting equipment and supplies. Volunteers also use proceeds to enroll in training sessions and educational seminars throughout the year.
Each person who took part in the race paid a $25 registration fee to rent their duck. The 351 people who raced provided $8,775 to the department. Visitors also gave the department donations at Avoca Town Hall and other sites across the village.
Avoca Quackoff spectators gathered around the Tefft Park tennis court to watch dozens of races from 1-2:45 p.m. Contestants lined up at one end of the tennis court and competed in heats of five ducks. The first duck that crossed the finish line was declared the winner of each heat.
Contestants could encourage their duck to move forward by yelling, jumping, flapping their arms or shaking their legs. They were not allowed to touch their duck during the race.
Fans watched 70 heats in the first round and paid attention as the field narrowed to the second round, semifinals and finals. Twelve people advanced to the semifinals and took part in four races involving three ducks apiece. Leonardo, Zabka, Olivia Muyres and Jon Hemenway celebrated after they advanced to the championship contest.
Organizers placed Muyres in the far left lane and Hemenway, Leonardo and Zabka were in the next three lanes. Leonardo crouched down as the starting signal went off and watched his duck scoot down the lane on a path to victory. His mouth dropped open in disbelief as he was mobbed by several friends who were cheering for him.
Zabka took home second place, Hemenway finished third and Muyres was fourth. Leonardo raised his golden cup trophy in the air during the awards ceremony and Zabka, Hemenway and Muyres smiled with their plaques.
Public address announcer Nancy Bose told the crowd during the awards ceremony that she was pleased with the turnout for the Quackoff. She felt the 40th running of the annual races had been successful for the community and everyone who attended.
“We hope you had a good time,” Bose told the crowd. “We have certainly enjoyed it today. All of us want to thank you for coming and helping us celebrate.”
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