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Races still teach valuable lessons

The Pinewood Derby is a piece of Americana that hearkens back to a treasured time when parents taught children about working with their hands and with tools to create something of value.

That tradition has grown to involve mothers and sons and daughters, brothers and nephews or nieces or uncles and aunts and nephews or nieces or whoever, but the concept remains the same: To teach a young boy or girl about using the skills of his or her own handiwork to enter a competition that is all about fun and sportsmanship.

The concept dates back to 1953 and the work of an enterprising Boy Scouts of America Cubmaster in Manhattan Beach, Calif. Donald Murphy was looking for what he said was a “wholesome, constructive activity that would foster a closer father-son relationship and promote craftsmanship and good sportsmanship through competition.”

From that concept, Murphy’s idea, which started with 55 Cub Scouts, has continued on through the generations, and today more than a million Scouts have participated.

Locally, it’s a tradition that has gone on for more than 50 years, though the venue has changed. The races were first held at the Hub Department Store in downtown Steubenville, before they moved to the Fort Steuben Mall. When COVID-19 restrictions made the mall an unusable site this year, the Two Chiefs District of the Boy Scouts of America made the decision to move the event to the Jefferson County Fairgrounds at Friendship Park, where it could be held outside.

More than 80 boys and girls participated Saturday, with Ace Momaeff of Pack 1553 in Wellsburg claiming the championship. Longtime derby chair Joe Kovaleski and a crew of dedicated volunteers worked hard to make the day a success. Among those who helped were members of the Jefferson County Fair Board, who made the facility available at no charge, and the Ville, Wintersville Trophy Shop and the Scout Shop, which sponsored the races.

The cars have to meet a series of technical specifications that rival what the racers in NASCAR, IndyCar or Formula 1 have to meet. Competitors’ vehicles have to meet specifications for length, width, height clearance and weight. Cars that don’t measure up have to be modified and sent back through inspection again.

They are wonders of the imagination and engineering on a small scale. But behind all the pageantry of colors and designs, remember the basic concept is about being able to spend quality time with a child to teach skills, craftsmanship and sportsmanship.

Those lessons, along with the memories of Pinewood Derby competition, will serve all those who participate well throughout their lives.

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